Lost Generation (an Energy Manifesto)

Posted on April 16, 2007
Posted By: Paul Weinberger
In our lifetimes, we've witnessed remarkable — and often unforeseen — technological achievements. During this same time, thoughtful observers have recognized that our current patterns of global energy consumption are not sustainable. Where is our Manhattan Energy Project? Our Apollo Energy Program? We've literally lost a generation.

A Brief (Recent) History of Technology

This is an opportune time to take stock. We've just passed the 20th anniversary of the "Woodstock of Physics" — that famous American Physical Society March meeting at the New York Hilton where the New Age of high-temperature superconductivity was proclaimed.1,2 And we are fast approaching the 30th anniversary of that televised energy speech by Jimmy Carter, attired in his cardigan sweater, warning us we were confronting "the moral equivalent of war."3,4

Well, we have yet to see anything approaching the practical zero-resistance power transmission lines, ultra-high efficiency motors and generators, levitating high-speed trains and SMES (superconducting magnetic energy storage) that were promised to be just around the corner. The much-maligned Jimmy Carter and his prescient energy challenge were essentially ignored — and followed alarmingly soon thereafter by the Iranian hostage crisis, which precipitated the second historic oil price spike within a decade. (Does anyone still remember, for example, the US Synfuels Corporation?)

America was essentially "energy independent" in 1950; today, we rely on imports for as much as two-thirds of the petroleum — and about one-third of the total energy — we consume.

Concurrently, unprecedented technological advances in a wide variety of disciplines have revolutionized our lives. Here are some obvious examples from just two technology arenas:

  • Digital electronics/photonics and telecommunications... personal computers; cell phones; global positioning systems; digital cameras; iPods; lasers; fiber optics; bar-code scanners; digital information technologies; the Internet

  • Biomedical technologies and computational genomics... noninvasive diagnostics; laser surgery and laparoscopic techniques; biocompatible materials; artificial and transplanted body parts; DNA sequencing; gene characterization, screening and manipulation.

In the energy/environmental field, I contend that we have nothing to compare. Granted, significant and encouraging progress has been made over the past few decades — once the problems were identified and widely acknowledged — in cleaning up our environment. We've vastly reduced harmful air emissions and process waste streams and essentially eliminated the deleterious effects of such recognized pollutants as DDT and CFCs and some known carcinogens.

However, I would further observe that much of this progress was relatively straightforward and just required putting in the effort, relying for the most part on extensions of existing technologies. Similarly, most of the recent progress in fuel utilization and energy conversion can be attributed to incremental technology advances — such things as enhanced fossil fuel detection and recovery techniques; gradual improvements in power plant and direct conversion efficiencies; the emergence of higher-temperature and/or higher strength-to-weight engineered materials.

Here are just two diverse examples:

  • Nuclear power... Not that long ago, I had the occasion to review the latest Standard Plant designs being offered by the remaining US nuclear steam supply system (NSSS) vendors. To my surprise (with the exception of some greater reliance on IT, digital instrumentation and passive-rather-than-active safety systems), these designs are not that different from the designs I worked on as a young mechanical engineer some thirty-plus years ago. There have been some half-hearted looks at alternative nuclear fuel cycles and such concepts as modular pebble bed reactors, but commercial nuclear technology remains essentially unchanged.

  • Fuel cells... This is a direct conversion energy technology that has a bright future — and, yes, probably always will. The concept was demonstrated as far back as 1801 by Humphrey Davy, and a working fuel cell was constructed by William Grove in 1839. Fuel cell technology languished for a full century until successful application in the US space program, where in many respects it can be considered an enabling technology (despite the difficulties of Apollo 13). Intensive efforts have been underway for more than three decades to develop practical fuel cells for both stationary power and transportation applications; yet widespread commercial markets have yet to appear. How much longer will we need to fund still another fuel cell "demonstration" project?

Remember magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)? Remember ocean-thermal energy conversion (OTEC)? Remember breeder reactors and nuclear fusion? One might argue that the last significant energy technology breakthroughs occurred over a half century ago with the development of commercial nuclear power (mixed blessing though it has turned out to be!) and the practical semiconductor photovoltaic cell (by, among others, RCA Sarnoff and Bell Labs). Since that time, commercial nuclear power has plateaued (at least domestically) and PV applications have been mostly confined to niche markets.

Indeed, there is nothing new under the Sun — not even the Sun! Photovoltaic, solar-thermal and other renewables technologies have made impressive gains over the past few decades; but even these advances can largely be described as incremental. (The technology breakthrough still needed to make most renewables a practical widely-adopted option is a really effective energy storage system.) What has made these and other non-traditional energy technologies more economically attractive is that they are now competing with vastly higher conventional energy costs, with the expectation that future regulatory requirements may further narrow the gap.

How were we able to get from Fermi's first successful controlled nuclear fission to Little Boy and Fat Man in less than 3 years with the Manhattan Project? And to commercial nuclear power generation a dozen years later? Why is it expected to take longer now to get back to the Moon than the 8 years from JFK's initial challenge to the landing of Apollo 11 when we started from scratch?

Our Energy Challenge

Historians of the distant future (should we be fortunate enough to have one!) are likely to view the era roughly beginning with the last two-thirds of the 20th century as a watershed period. It is the time when mankind's collective activities first bumped up against two global limitations: (1) the impending depletion of finite energy resources and (2) the ability of our surroundings to absorb the consequences of our energy use.

Many forward-looking thinkers5-11 of this era have made us well aware of the issues. One of my personal favorites is Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons."6 Hardin's metaphor describing how each of us — making rational choices based on self-interest — has contributed to the collective degradation of our finite "commons," is compelling.

Let me make one point especially clearly: it is indisputable that mankind has substantially affected our environment, both locally and globally; and, while the Earth is amazingly resilient, we cannot continue on this path indefinitely. As explained by Thomas Homer-Dixon:

"Without a doubt, mankind can find ways to push back these constraints on global growth with market-driven innovation on energy supply, efficient use and pollution cleanup. But we probably can't push them back indefinitely, because our species' capacity to innovate, and to deliver the fruits of that innovation when and where they're needed, isn't infinite." 12

We may debate (and many do!) some of the specifics; for example:

  • M. King Hubbert's methodology for predicting when fossil fuel production will peak13-15

  • The extent of anthropogenic contribution to global climate change — and indeed, if global climate change is even a "problem" at all16-18

  • The wisdom of placing greater reliance on our largest traditional energy resource... coal ("clean coal" is an oxymoron if I've ever heard one)

  • The appropriateness of the USA consuming a disproportionate share of the world's resources19 — and whether achieving "energy independence" is even a realistic goal.

Nevertheless, the trends are undeniable. We are no longer discussing "whether or not" but "when."

I have deliberately avoided a precise prediction of how soon we will officially have a "global energy crisis." Such predictions are notoriously difficult, and not necessarily that meaningful since they are based on so many assumptions about available energy resources and trends in energy demand. Suffice it to say that it will occur on a time-scale sufficiently short to affect the lifestyles of people who are alive today.

I am suggesting a sense of urgency, not of panic. Just about every human activity (with the possible exception of golf) involves the expenditure of energy; and every expenditure of energy has some environmental consequence. So we cannot afford to ignore this.

Energy and environmental considerations are already affecting the way we live and the choices we make. Who among us is still naïve enough to believe that the American military preoccupation with the Middle East has nothing to do with energy?20 Another Prudhoe Bay-scale oil discovery may delay the "crisis" stage by a few decades, but it won't prevent it. Furthermore, as China and India and the other "sleeping giants" of the developing world emerge into modernity and demand their piece of the action, the situation can only get worse.

Our goal — and the goal of all who feel any sense of obligation to succeeding generations — should be to achieve a responsible balance between the economic and social benefits of energy use and its environmental impact. This will require a long-range energy strategy that is sustainable... sustainable with respect to our consumption of finite resources and also to the burdens we place on our environment. At least three key issues are at stake:

  • Conservation... how can we promote economic growth without being wasteful?

  • Efficiency... how can we get the most out of the energy we must use?

  • Environmental stewardship... how can we achieve and maintain a prosperous life style without further degrading the planet?

The first step is to recognize the actual full value of the energy we do use. This energy should be priced accordingly to reflect, among other considerations:

  • Its true replacement cost (e.g., the next more difficult barrel of oil to recover, the next less-attractive renewables site to develop); this includes, but is not limited to, the amount of energy consumed in producing the usable quantity of energy (sometimes measured by what is called the "energy return on investment")

  • Other indirect but just as real costs such as environmental degradation, health effects and, yes, military operations (dubious and otherwise).

The Good News, the Bad News

The good news is that we have sufficient technology in-hand and knowledge of effective efficiency and conservation measures to at least start down the path towards sustainability; the bad news is that, at least so far, we lack the will to do so.

One possible approach for getting our hands around the problem is examining a simple relationship;21 namely, the total global impact of energy use is the product of three factors: (1) the number of people, (2) the energy use per person and (3) the environmental impact per unit energy use.

Clearly, addressing one or more of these three factors will go a long way toward achieving a sustainable energy future. Garrett Hardin6, for one, believed forty years ago that "there is no technical solution" and that our only salvation would be in coercive population control. I tend to believe that we can be more creative than that.

Reducing our per capita energy use and the associated environmental impact can be accomplished through a variety of "supply-side" and "demand-side" measures, employing both existing and innovative technologies and some obvious, though potentially hard-to-swallow life style changes. There is no single "magic bullet" to solve all our energy problems; each option (from nuclear to renewables) has its own advantages, disadvantages and inconveniences. However, a serious commitment to a "portfolio" of relatively modest initiatives can collectively make a huge difference.

We will undoubtedly have to increase our proportionate use of renewable and other nontraditional energy sources, as well as devising ways to use our large coal and nuclear resources in a more environmentally benign manner. However, energy conservation and life-style changes can have the largest near-term beneficial effect. It should be a no-brainer... when you finally realize that you are approaching a cliff, the first thing to do is ease off the gas pedal!

Here are just a very few examples:

  • Automotive fuel economy standards... approximately half our current domestic petroleum consumption is for gasoline and diesel fuel; tightening miles-per-gallon standards (and closing that great SUV/small truck loophole) would have a substantial impact.

  • Waste heat utilization... about two-thirds of the energy we use in thermal cycles to generate electricity is rejected as waste heat; greater utilization of this thermal energy for useful purposes (e.g., industrial processes, space heating/cooling, aquaculture) in "combined heat-and-power" systems (formerly called "cogeneration") can also be very beneficial.

  • Time-of-use rates... most electricity consumers pay a single price for power that does not reflect the considerable difference in generation costs between peak and off-peak periods; instituting time-of-use rates can have two beneficial effects: (1) providing a mechanism for customers to make an informed choice of when to turn on the switch and/or purchase higher-efficiency devices, and (2) reducing system-wide peak loads, raising average conversion efficiency and reducing the average cost of generation.

It is ironic that precisely because there is no single definable goal (like building the A-bomb or landing on the Moon) it will be difficult to marshal the concerted effort needed to implement these and other incremental improvements. Here are some other obstacles we face:

  • Lack of perceived urgency... "What cliff? I don't see a cliff!"

  • Misplaced sense of entitlement... our "God-given right to drive Hummers"

  • Inter-generational irresponsibility... "I had to struggle, so my children can struggle too!"

  • The "not-in-my-backyard" phenomenon... "Tragedy of the Commons" again

  • Our unreasonable faith in science and technology... "... And then a miracle happens"

  • Business sector resistance... "It will make us uncompetitive and cost us jobs!"

It is this last issue — the general resistance of a good part of the business establishment to anything "green"22 — that is the most cynical. Declaring that strengthening energy efficiency and emissions standards would threaten US competitiveness is just an implicit admission that US technology is no longer world-class. For example, the unresponsiveness of Detroit to clear market signals is precisely what is causing them to fail (along with the burdens of health care costs). Furthermore, we will be missing out on establishing a (very achievable!) leadership position in a wide variety of energy- and environmentally-sensitive products and technologies unless we get more serious; already, our traditional leadership position in photovoltaic technologies is shifting offshore.

In fact, there are some encouraging recent trends. An emerging consensus of major US industrial leaders and environmental groups is pushing for a more predictable regulatory position on controlling greenhouse gases.23 The huge Texas utility, TXU, is reconsidering its plans to construct eleven large coal-fired power plants in favor of perhaps "greener" options.24 In a further attempt to fill the void in national political leadership, many State (most notably, California) and local communities25 are beginning to consider their own initiatives for innovative energy technologies and addressing environmental concerns.

From a long-range global perspective, there is also some cause for optimism. As individual economies develop and grow, per capita energy consumption grows along with gross domestic product; but at some point, as these economies adopt modern industrial technologies and then enter the post-industrial world, per capita energy consumption per unit GDP (often called "energy intensity") actually begins to decline. Furthermore, as each succeeding developing country modernizes, these "energy intensity" peaks seem to be getting smaller and smaller.26 One challenge for the near future will be to assist the peoples of China and India in continuing this trend towards more efficient and environmentally friendly energy use as their economies grow.

The focus of any rational response should be on sustainability... how to manage finite resources, use them wisely and not further degrade our planet. We don't need to wait for that major technological breakthrough (as welcome as that might be!) to embark on a graceful transition to a sustainable energy future — but it will take a Manhattan Project-sized commitment and an Apollo Program-style focus to accomplish it. A major attitude adjustment will be required. We can't afford to lose another generation.

Selected References and Notes

1. "'Our Life Has Changed': The Lightbulb, The Transistor — Now The Superconductor Revolution," Business Week cover story, 6 April 1987

2. "Superconductors! The Startling Breakthrough That Could Change Our World," Time cover story, 11 May 1987

3. Jimmy Carter delivered this televised speech on 18 April 1977; for the full text, see: www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carter/filmmore/ps_energy.html

4. For a more recent, rather more inflammatory commentary see: Thom Hartmann, "Carter Tried to Stop Bush's Energy Disasters - 28 Years Ago," 3 May 2005, www.CommonDreams.org

5. Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring," Fawcett Publications, 1962

6. Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science (162), 1968

7. Barry Commoner, "The Closing Circle," Knopf, 1971

8. E.F. Schumacher, "Small is Beautiful," Blond & Briggs, 1973

9. Amory B. Lovins, "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" Foreign Affairs, October 1976

10. Jonathan Schell, "The Fate of the Earth," Knopf, 1982

11. Bill McKibben, "The End of Nature," Random House, 1989

12. Thomas Homer-Dixon, "The End of Ingenuity," NY Times op-Ed, 29 November 2006

13. Robert B. Semple, "The End of Oil," NY Times, 1 March 2006

14. Daniel Yergin, "It's Not the End of the Oil Age," Washington Post, 7 August 2005

15. Kenneth S. Deffeyes, "Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage," Princeton University Press, 2001, as reviewed by Daniel V. Schroeder, American Journal of Physics (72,1), January 2004

16. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report, "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis," Paris, February 2007

17. Jim Hansen, "The Threat to the Planet," New York Review of Books (53, 12), 13 July 2006

18. Richard Lindzen, "Climate of Fear," Wall Street Journal, Editorial Page, 12 April 2006

19. The USA has 4.6% of the world's population, 22.5% of the world's energy consumption (DOE/EIA Annual Energy Review, Figure 11.3, 2005)

20. Antonia Juhasz, "Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?" NY Times, Op-Ed, 13 March 2007

21. I seem to recall my first exposure to this simple equation was from Barry Commoner, erstwhile Green Party Presidential candidate, perhaps at an early Earth Day event

22. For one particularly egregious example of this, see Daniel J. Popeo, "Surrendering Energy Independence," Washington Legal Foundation, in NY Times, paid op-Ed, 29 January 2007

23. Felicity Barringer, "A Coalition for Firm Limit on Emissions," NY Times, 19 January 2007

24. Clifford Krauss & Matthew Wald, "TXU Announces Plans for 2 Coal Plants Designed to Be Cleaner-Burning," NY Times 10 March 2007

25. Katie Zezima, "In New Hampshire, Towns Put Climate on the Agenda," NY Times, 19 March 2007

26. Amulya K. N. Reddy & Jose Goldemberg, "Energy for the Developing World," Scientific American, September 1990

Authored By:
Paul Weinberger has 34 years of engineering, R&D and management consulting experience in the energy/environmental, advanced materials and aerospace/defense industries. His current focus is on the evaluation of alternative energy technologies and demand-side approaches in support of the development of sustainable long-term energy strategies. Mr. Weinberger has directed and participated in a broad range of assignments in both the public and private sectors involving many aspects of technology development, commercialization

Other Posts by: Paul Weinberger

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April, 17 2007

Graham Cowan says

Lost a generation? It sounds more impressive this way: we are in an energy interregnum spanning two millennia.

Who reading these words has been driving on North American roads for 40 or more years? In that time, have you noticed any trend in speed limit enforcement?

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
Oxygen expands around boron fire, car goes

April, 17 2007

Graham Cowan says

Maybe I should rephrase that question. In your four-or-more decades of driving in the USA or Canada, what is the trend you have observed in speed limit enforcement?

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
Oxygen expands around boron fire, car goes

April, 17 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says

Government which involves itself in everything focuses on nothing.

Government which seeks to place the blame will ignore the solution.

President Kennedy set a very ambitious, very public goal for the moon landing. Government focused on the goal, developed a plan and executed it.

In this case, there is no goal; there is no plan; there is only a "fuzzy" wish. Worse, the people of the world are being intentionally deceived by their governments. They have been told: "We must begin." They have not been told: "This is what we must accomplish." They have not been told: "This is when we must have completed the task." Instead, they have been "Kyoto-ed".

I do not know why there is such reluctance to "open the kimono", though I can guess. This issue is not local or national in nature; it is global. It cannot be solved locally or nationally; it must be solved globally. That will require a level of trust and cooperation among governments and their peoples which is unprecedented; and, perhaps, unachievable. The success of the Kyoto process to date does not bode well for the enterprise.

April, 17 2007

Todd McKissick says

Graham, I assume you're referring to the establishment allowing motorists to raise their highway speeds from 55 to nearly 80 in places. I agree that's an underhanded way of lining the oil companies' pockets, but most cars nowdays get nearly the same mileage at those different speeds. For me, it makes almost negligable difference.

A bigger problem is using the guise of safety to put a dumb stoplight where my road changes from 65 to 55 and biasing it so that the cross trafic (which is rarely there) get's most of the green. I've seen examples like this in almost every major citiy in the U.S.

There are hundreds of ways we could save energy. If we can put dual-core 60 nm processors in every house, why can't the dumb things shut down reliably. How about putting non-volitile memory in our electronic devices and a master remote controlled power switch to control them so they can fully shut down? How about consolidating the inefficient power supplies (external and inside the stereo, etc.) around the house into a single efficient one. Then we can get into recouping shower heat back into the shower cold supply. I could go on all day. Just don't get me started on planned obsolescence.

I think it's all tied to companies financing themselves with shareholders that want an ever-growing ROI. There seems to be no such thing as a company willing to make the same profit each year. Funny thing is that shareholders don't actually produce any product.

April, 17 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


"I think it's all tied to companies financing themselves with shareholders that want an ever-growing ROI. There seems to be no such thing as a company willing to make the same profit each year. Funny thing is that shareholders don't actually produce any product."

In an inflating economy, ROI must increase each year just to keep up with inflation.

In an inflating economy, a company willing to make the same profit each year is not growing; in fact, it is shrinking, though it may not know it yet.

Shareholders provide the capital which makes producing product possible. They deserve an opportunity to earn a return on their investment which includes compensation for their risk.

I suspect that investors in the technologies you develop would expect returns as well. Further, I suspect that you would encourage them to believe that such returns were possible/likely.

April, 17 2007

Todd McKissick says

Ed, Seems like we've been here before. I should have known to clarify "same profit" more lest I get jumped on. My definition is a company selling the same amount of product but raising the price according to inflation to maintain their profit margins after expenses are covered. This also provides for annual raises for the employees and owners.

This is in contrast to public companies which live in constant fear of their stock price falling behind the almighty Dow. This fear has led the majority of these companies to resort to all sorts of maneuvers which don't really serve society.

Who do you go after to fix this example situaiton. Mixer manufacturers make cheaper and cheaper products to the point that they now only last two years. They now get return sales (provided their competition follows suit) from a two year turnaround so their profit soars even more. Meanwhile, the energy and resources to supply mixers to the consumers goes up 2-10 fold. The best solution from an energy and resource standpoint would be to make better mixers that last 30 years or so. ...but that wouldn't be as profitable on the short term!

My contention is that the company should have saved up some cash and bought their stock back at some point. That way they would have less growth to support. Another good example is a utility company with a stagnant customer base. If they were investor owned, wouldn't those investors want returns that were larger than the inflation rate? And if so, how do you get it without a) raising prices beyond inflation, b) cutting costs (lower quality service) or c) selling even more stock. If you said "c", then where does it end?

I'm all for investors and them making sufficient returns. They're best used to stretch out large expenses (e.g. startups, rollouts, acquisitions) over a longer term and for that risk, they do deserve much higher returns. I just don't think they deserve lifelong returns on this loan they give out. All things being equal, a privately held company has less drain on society. In the end, it just redistributes more and more money from those without it to those that already have it.

April, 17 2007

Jeff Presley says


Thank you for an excellent article with some great insights. You've pointed out a lot of problems and an alarming fact, which is that the US government has not had a major innovative agenda accomplishment since the moon project. Interestingly, you are not alone in this thought, and the "meme" has made its way throughout society. Flipping through the channels at the hotel room the other night, I heard Bill Maher, who I normally wouldn't watch for more than 30 seconds say almost exactly the same thing you did. It was the episode with Sen. Bill Bradley, and of course Bradley could only think of the space program as an example of something "we've" done.

But the US government didn't go into space because of a crying need to get moon rocks. We went into space, quite frankly, because we were terrified of the Russians (Soviet Union). Once they were in space, they had, from a strategic viewpoint conquered the high ground. By sending a man to the moon, the US established technical (our Nazi scientists were better than their Nazi scientists) and economic superiority. Military superiority comes as a given.

However, the real crime occurred during that same time when the education system came under attack. Since we were considered to be deficient in math and science, blue ribbon (read POLITICAL) panels were assembled and came up with a disastrous curriculum which we have still not worked our way free of.

Anyone else remember "New Math"?

Ed is correct, as always. "Government" at the moment is completely unable to focus, and our leadership is paralyzed by dozens if not hundreds of competing special interests. I've just spent the last several days at this Utah Energy Summit

I personally spoke with most of the governors in attendance, as well as movers and shakers from Fortune 500 companies, some named on the agenda and others just attending like me. As well, I got to hobnob with all the environmentalists. The personal networking was very interesting, but the reality was as I told the energy advisor to the governor, the disparate interests present made a cohesive vision impossible. It was like the hindu god, where you have on the one hand, on the other hand, on the other other hand and the other other other hand. Pretty hard to accomplish anything in that environment.

Paul, you'll be happy to know that at least during the socializing portion of the event, while I was talking with a director at EPRI, that I brought up MHD, which she happens to have worked on in her career! Of course, the way they are structured, they have to wait around until someone in the electrical industry wants something figured out, then they budget for it and solve it, if they can. The bad news is the problems have gotten a lot bigger than their $300M annual budget's capacity to solve. MHD was abandoned 25+ years ago because the containment issues were too difficult FOR THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE TIME. There have been obvious technological advances in the past 30 years and you've named just a few, so it is equally obvious to me that something like MHD should be revisited.

But given our eduhcashunal system, we'll have to compete on the world market for the engineers and scientists who have been properly educated elsewhere to come save our bacon from this frying pan. The home-grown crowd is largely only capable of writing the rants you see on other websites, and couldn't do Schroedinger's equations to save their lives. They can scream their lungs out that "Someone needs to do something!" but unfortunately, that someone may be the one in the mirror. And since they haven't passed algebra, let alone physics and chemistry, they don't have the wherewithal to solve THESE problems. Our government can throw a lot of money at the problem, but I'm not sure where we're going to find the next generation of Nazi scientists...

April, 17 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


First, thank you.

Some food for thought. If the US federal government could somehow be convinced (forced) to return to exercising only the powers enumerated to it in the Constitution, the federal "tax take" could be reduced from ~ 18.4% of GDP to perhaps 14% or less, which would make more than $400 billion per year available for investment in new technology, which would be preferrable to having it disappear down the "rat hole". Assuming that we truly need the new technology, we could probably do without a few more "Robert C. Byrd Federal Pork Processing Facilities" in West Virginia, or something equally compelling.

In fact, $400 billion per year would fund full energy independence by 2050 using existing technology, plus a 95% reduction in AGW emissions as well. But then, who cares about either of those outcomes?

April, 17 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


"I just don't think they deserve lifelong returns on this loan they give out."

They deserve the return on the money invested until the money is returned to them. One way the money can be returned to the stockholders is by taking the company private, by purchasing their stock at an agreed upon price. Typically, that price is higher than the current market price, because the group taking the company private believes that its value to them exceeds the market value of the stock.

April, 18 2007

Todd McKissick says

Ed, Are you suggesting that a company should allow short term interests (not buying their stock back because the price would be higher than market value) to override long term profitability (privately controlling company profits AND DIRECTION)? No one said business decisions were easy, but the U.S. is getting it's backside kicked all over the place because too many people have only nearsighted goals. I challenge you to cite one area where short sightedness is a societal benefit. My guess is that it's not even in the best interest for individual companies, unless you're an officer trying to cut and run soon.

Merging this with your government comment, which I wholeheartedly agree with, individual legislators shortsightedness (aka personal greed of lobby money) is IMHO, the major reason behind those problems.

Jeff, You and Ed are exactly correct in that money games are paralysing the government. I tend to think that in this case it's also due to the many competing 'solutions'. It is still debated in terms of GW or energy independence or energy costs or environmentalism or economics. Rarely are these combined as the 'common' goal because most of the solutions don't fix all the issues. Someone needs to take the podium and coordinate notes from all the mini-debates into one macro-debate.

The Utah Energy Summit would have been very interesting to attend. I'd enjoy getting your take on it with regard to some other issues. If you want, drop me a line at tmckissick (at) unl.edu.

April, 18 2007

Kenneth Kok says

Ed you mentioned some very key words. President Kennedy set a GOAL. One of the problems I see today is that policy is not about setting goals that put engineers, scientists, and people to work but it is about micro managing by a committee, called congress who listens to the media who have no basic scientific understanding. The moon program GOAL did not specify building a Saturn rocket and an Appolo spacecraft. Government set a GOAL and a date to reach it and also provided the funding to do so.

April, 18 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


No. Buying back shares is done when it makes sense. Taking a company private is the limiting case of share buybacks, since you buy all of them back.


That's how you do it when you want it to work. Kennedy did; it did. By the way, I believe the expression "micro-managing committee" is an oxymoron.


April, 18 2007

Jeff Presley says


One shouldn't get confused with shareholder issues. Roughly 50% of the population directly owns shares in companies, but the number is far higher when you consider things like insurance. If you have life insurance of any kind, you are a shareholder in a LOT more companies than you think. Same for your auto and health insurance to a lesser extent because their rate of return on those shares has a lot to do with your rates. So it is misleading to consider stock holding an US vs THEM proposition. It is more correctly an US vs US issue, whether we like that or not.

Certainly Ed and you make good points when you talk about share buybacks and taking companies private. Ever since Sarbanes Oxley, the joys of being a public company have diminished considerably. Hence the huge uptic in Blacksone, KKR et al taking entities private. They aren't doing that out of some altruist fervor, they are doing it to earn their shareholders a great return on what technically are risky investments. These two are to be commended for jumping into the energy production business when there were certainly less headache-y investments. This is why you see KKR sucking up to the environmentalists even before the ink is dry on the purchase offer (TXU if you haven't been paying attention).

An unfortunate side-effect of the environmental movement that started 30+ yrs ago is that these groups have become an ingrained part of society. I personally heard a rather prominent environmentalist over beers talking to his peers describe how he "shookdown" a major corporation for funding. Shakedowns for funds are a tactic one would expect from the mafia, not self-appointed guardians of the public trust. Perhaps that is one of the reasons large companies often refer (privately of course) to certain environmental groups as the Eco-mafia. Follow the money...

Ed, Can we solve all these problems for a mere $400B / yr? Very likely. Will we have ANY chance of doing so while pandering to all the special interests with their hands out demanding a piece of the action? We all know the answer to that.

April, 19 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


E-mail me at firetoice@nc.rr.com and I will send you the answer to the first of the two questions above. The answer to the second question "...is blowin' in the wind".

April, 20 2007

Jeff Presley says

Hmm speaking of TXU we have this article, hot off the presses:

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April, 20 2007

Jeff Presley says

Try that again, had a little database hiccup..

Hmm speaking of TXU we have this article, hot off the presses:

Environmentalists force cancellation of TXU coal plants

April, 20 2007

Joel Gordes says


This is an extremely insightful document and I agree with at leat 95% of what you have said. One point of mild disagreement is that, at some point, I believe we DO have to come to grips with the population situation; particularly in rich nations as technological fixes could be overrun by this.

I would also say that the pronouncement in the last two days by eleven retired generals and admirals on how climate change may lead to greater conflict may present an opportunity for greater action on energy since it elevates climate change to a national security issue which, in all surveys, beat out purely environmental concerns in importance to the voters and hence to politicians. As one who has made this tie-in for years, I believe it becomes a potent argument to enlist whole segments of the population who are not currently involved in energy issues.

Finally, one other factor that is important if we are to make any progress in the directions you suggest is to stop merely making idiotic, long-term goals like "20% by 2020" without setting more granular, intermediate milestones like "1% by next year". This NIMTO (Not in My Term of Office) exercise allows politicians to get off scott free from near term responsibility and accountability. Advocacy groups and their foundation funders are among the most guilty of this nurturing of unfullfilled promises by awarding funds for lofty long-term legislative accomplishments without mandating short term attainments. Only certain RPS programs with stiff penalties have defied this trend and even here, reports on actual attainment are scattered. In most cases the overall energy use is still going in the wrong direction (escalating) and we need to set metrics to better measure this and then take affirmative actions to correct it along the lines you have suggested.

Best, Joel Gordes Environmental Energy Solutions

April, 21 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


The great risk of the short term goals you suggest is that the actions which satisfy the short term goals may well not be on the path to the long term solutions, in which case, they become an economic dead loss over time.

The issues which must be resolved first are: what is the end point of the process; and, when must it be reached. Once that has been determined, the path to achieving that end point can be identified. For example, if the end point is a 90% reduction in carbon emissions, as former vice president Gore has "testified", efficiency programs, conservation, fuel conversion, etc. make no sense at all. They represent minor reductions in emission sources which must be eliminated totally to achieve the ultimate objective. If the goal is a 90% reduction in carbon emissions, the objective is to eliminate carbon emission sources at the end of their useful lifetimes and replace them with technologies which do not emit carbon at all. Nothing else will suffice.

April, 22 2007

Joel Gordes says

Hi Edward et al,

I guess I have not made myself as clear as I should have. What I meant to sayis that setting long term goals alone is a real problem unless they are also accompanied by the more incremental, granular year-by-year attainments. For the the long term, I see the Princeton Wedges pathway (Pacala and Socolow) or some variation of that as a potentially workable solution since it has an end point (stabilization by 2054) but also has an inherent annual/decadal set of goals as well in the expansion of the wedges over time.

As one who has worked closely with energy and environmental legislation for 32 years, just having long-term end goals without the accountability forced by annual goals is a false promise to future generations.

Best, Joel

April, 23 2007

Edward Reid, Jr. says


Thanks for the reference. Pacala and Socolow goes a long way to addressing my concerns. I initially reacted to your "20% by 2020" reference, since that is not an end point. Actually, "stabilization by 2054" is not an end point either, though the paper discusses what must happen following 2054.

My problem is mostly with Kyoto, Kyoto Lite (McCain/Lieberman) and similar "let's take the first step off the slippery slope" approaches which do not take into account the end point. I believe your point is captured by the following quote from Antoine de St. Exupery: "A goal without a plan is just a wish." Most of what we have seen in general circulation is a collection of wishes, much like the Christmas lists my kids used to send to Santa Claus. I'd like to be young, handsome, brilliant, etc.; however, there is no conceivable plan by which any of that happens.

I believe that the primary reason that the end point has not been discussed publicly, until former vice president Gore's "testimony" to Congress, is that achieving it would require such massive investments and changes that it would appear to be either "impossible" or frightening. (NOTE: The Gore 2050 "goal" is far more severe than the Pacala and Sokolow 2054 goal.) So, we are presented with "long term goals" which really aren't, in the hope that we will embark on the "cheap and easy" path, from which we will not later be able to escape. I believe that this approach is fundamentally dishonest. I believe that those pushing it are the "snake oil salesmen" of the current century. ("Gather 'round, friends. I'll tell ya' what I'm gonna' do.)

April, 24 2007

Mark Krebs says

Paul : Your article makes a good case for bringing more rationality and risk assessment into the development of energy policies. A good starting place would be educating consumers that energy IS NOT made inside of utility meters.

Todd: regarding the movers and shakers from Fortune 500 companies, I contend that much of their moving and shaking is symptomatic of underlying neurological disorders.

April, 24 2007

George McClellan says

It's interesting that you throw away clean coal as an oxymoron. Coal is used to generate about 50% of the electricity produced in the US. Coal, like any other source of energy has it's issues. Fortunately the issues are readily identifiable, and can each be solved through technology fixes and money.

You want a cleaner environment? - pay up for electricity.

You want a secure, domestic supply of transportation fuels? - pay $3.00 / gallon for coal based liquid fuels.

Clean coal is a readily available, domestic source of supply for alternative transportation fuels, and a secure, long term fuel for the generation of clean electricty.


George McClellan

April, 24 2007

Paul Rivet says

Well said. Liek you I feel like i have been wailing in the wind. In 1987 AEE recognized me as "Cogeneration Porfessional of the Year" again in 1991 in New York City. Alas no one was listening. When I was given the award in 87 I pointed out to the audience that Jimmy Carter was the father. Most people sitting in the audience didnt have a clue. Paul H Rivet

April, 24 2007

Joel Gordes says

Hi Edward,

Where you say, "I believe your point is captured by the following quote from Antoine de St. Exupery: "A goal without a plan is just a wish." Most of what we have seen in general circulation is a collection of wishes, much like the Christmas lists my kids used to send to Santa Clause." was especially poignant to me as I am a big fan of his writings and a picture of him is in my office.

That being said, the quote is superb and I have used similar language to describe the last three years of plans by Connecticut's Energy Advisory Board who are indeed good at putting together your "collection" of wishes. Thank you for recounting how well St. Ex expressed it, I will be sure to use it in next year's terstimony.

best, Joel Gordes

April, 24 2007

Ryan Ferris says

Somehow, I think the answer to this article is somewhere in this fascinating work I have just read "A Century of War: Anglo-American oil politics and the New World Order."

From the preface: "The power of the dollar and the power of the U.S. Military had been uniquely intertwined with one commodity...since before the First World War. That commodity was petroleum, and it its service British, American, German, French, Italian, and other nations called their soldiers to war. As Henry Kissinger once expressed...'control energy and you control the nations.'

Tough for science to trump geo-politics....

April, 30 2007

Ferdinand E. Banks says

"Our nazi scientists better than their nazi scientists."

"Anybody remember the new math?"

I remember it Jeff, and a lot of other things too. 'Nazi' scientists were thin on the ground, and the new math wasn't a bad idea. And who says that I haven't done algebra: I did it twice and failed it both times.

Fred Banks

May, 07 2007

**** **** says

Septimus van der Linden. 5/7/2007. Paul's article is very much on the mark, and here we must think global.While the US might have a disprortionate use of energy, the productivity is also very high vs. other countries. Oh Yes Golf--do not forget the CO2 emissions. -"Long range Energy strategy that is sustainable-" Here we must keep in mind that crops, water, food and shelter must also be sustainable--which is not the case in many countries. I tend to agree with Garret Hardin's "population control '"-- over 9.3 Billion by 2030-the sustainable level is probably more like 5.5 to 6.0 Billion, considering the resouces available, clean water and locally produced food supply--just look at the calamity of many African countires.I watched a news clip that showed women in Darfur cutting down the few trees for fuel, and building of shelters.That does not bode well for sustainabilty.Desert encroachment will do the rest. Increasing Renewable Energy generation, is as mentioned worhtless with out Energy Storage legislation--the technologies are available--little attention is given--as long as there are subsidies , simply install more wind turbines (does not solve the problem) As Paul mentioned we can get to the moon, when effort is focused--so why not focus on solutions that can make an impact and support sustainability--America has an amzing ability to react when there is a dire emergency--that is not yet on the horizon, if it is ,every one will simply wait till it hits them between the eyes. Septimus van der Linden

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