Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

17 July 2008

Al Gore’s Energy Challenge


[Click here for supporting facts.]

It’s nice to have your own analysis confirmed—and so soon after posting—by someone with far greater clout. Al Gore spent most of the last decade working environmental and energy issues. He won the Nobel Peace Price and a Pulitzer Prize for his effort. He’s independently wealthy and beholden to no one, so you know he’s speaking from his mind and his heart. (We’ll leave aside that fact that he should have been president.)

Today, in a major speech on energy, global warming and the environment, he confirmed the essential conclusions of my recent posts on energy policy, an electricity economy, the cost and practical advantages of electric transport, the dangers of so-called “clean coal,” and the futility of short-term measures to lower gas prices.

The essence of Gore’s advice was two points. First, we have to give up all fossil fuels, including coal, if we want to save our planet, our economy, and our national independence. Second, we Americans can do it, if we put our minds and backs into it, in ten years. Then we can lead the world to replicate the process globally.

My own independent analysis—based on historical growth in wind power worldwide—suggests that we can increase wind power alone enough to virtually eliminate coal from our energy diet in eighteen years. If we add solar and nuclear power, let alone geothermal, that should be enough to reach Gore’s goal on his time schedule. But doing so will require a truly national effort and therefore a broad political consensus.

Gore’s speech is not overly long, and the New York Times piece reporting it is quite short. Both are worth a read.

But several quotations capture our current situation as only a man who should have been president can. Here they are (in my order, not Gore’s), with links to my own posts explaining them in detail:

    “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.”

    “If you want to know the truth about gasoline prices, here it is: the exploding demand for oil, especially in places like China, is overwhelming the rate of new discoveries by so much that oil prices are almost certain to continue upward over time no matter what the oil companies promise.”

    “It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now.”

    "The way to bring gas prices down is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of $1 per gallon gasoline.”

    “It is a great error to say that the United States must wait for others to join us in this matter. In fact, we must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest.”

    “Even those who reap the profits of the carbon age have to recognize the inevitability of its demise. As one OPEC oil minister observed, ‘The Stone Age didn’t end because of a shortage of stones.’”

    “We should guarantee good jobs in the fresh air and sunshine for any coal miner displaced by impacts on the coal industry. Every single one of them.”

There’s much more in Gore’s speech. Everyone who loves our country and our planet and believes deep down that something is terribly wrong should read it. But more than that: everyone who feels that way should take up Gore’s challenge and join his movement.

We can still do the right thing, but there’s not much time left. Dubya and Cheney already have cost us eight precious years.

Ten Encouraging Facts

If you think Al Gore’s vision is unrealistic, think again. The ground is shifting under doubters and deniers. The following are facts showing just how fast the world is changing (all links are to primary sources, not blogs):

1. Texas is now the United States’ largest generator of wind power, with 5.3 installed gigawatts. (A gigawatt is one million kilowatts.) California is second to Texas in wind power, with less than half of Texas’ total. The rest of the Southwest and the windy plains states are just getting started.

2. Texas just approved a $4.93 billion upgrade to its electricity grid, to handle 18.5 gigawatts of wind power. That’s enough to run 3.7 million homes with air conditioners roaring. Yes, this is Texas, the state of Dubya, Enron, and Exxon.

3. Texas’ home-grown corporate swashbuckler T. Boone Pickens—a former petroleum engineer, oilman and corporate raider—wants to raise $ 1 trillion to invest in wind power. He told the New York Times, “I have the same feelings about wind as I had about the best oil field I ever found.” Pickens is 80 years old. Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

4. In 2006—that’s two years ago—wind-power capacity in the European Union reached 48 gigawatts, just a bit less than 4% of total electrical capacity. That figure was 19% over the previous year’s total capacity. If that rate of growth continues and total electricity demand stays flat (through conservation), Europe will make 40% of its power from wind alone before 2022. And that’s not even considering nuclear or solar power.

5. France generates over three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear energy. Belgium, Sweden and the Slovak Republic generate about half. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Korea and Switzerland generate about a third or more. The United States, which invented nuclear power, generates only one-fifth of its electric power from the atom.

6. General Motors’ board of directors just approved production of the Chevy Volt, a “plug-in” hybrid designed to charge up in your garage and go forty miles on electricity alone. Production is scheduled for 2010.

7. The Volt is designed to go five miles on a kilowatt-hour (Kwh) of electricity. You can calculate how much that number would save you as compared to driving on gasoline by using the following formula:
    (Ratio of Volt Cost to Gas Cost) = (Your cost of electricity, in cents per Kwh) x (Your car’s MPG)/(five times your cost in cents per gallon of gas at your favorite pump)

8. The Japanese are not standing still. Toyota, Nissan, Matsushita Electric and other Japanese industrial companies have formed a consortium to establish standards for the lithium-ion batteries that will power Japan’s plug-in hybrids. Toyota has promised a lithium-ion plug-in hybrid by 2010.

9. Other car makers are working on electricity-based designs. BMW has promised an all-electric Mini-Cooper. Ford, Mazda, and BMW have working prototypes of cars that burn hydrogen. Their exhaust is only water vapor, and any source of electricity can generate their hydrogen fuel by hydrolyzing water.

10. If you reread this list, you’ll note that none of these points even mentions solar power.

Don’t be fooled by doubting Thomases and nay-sayers. Wind, solar and nuclear power are the energy technologies of the future. They won’t deprive you of your personal auto; it’ll just run quieter and make less pollution.

Coal and oil are the stone age, and we’re about to move into bronze. Don’t be left behind breathing sulfur dioxide in your Hummer.

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