OPEC, I Think It’s Time That We Started Seeing Other People

Well, glad to see you came back. You just couldn’t wait to see part two of “Tigerdad’s Energy Plan” could you. Let’s jump right into it.

First things first. We’re not going to solve this overnight and, as a wet behind the ears young kid recently pointed out to me, we can’t let the spigot run dry. (See Keith, listening to what the opposition has to say really doesn’t hurt that much) We need to open up the continental shelf for drilling and we need to do it now. It will be eight to ten years before we get much benefit from this drilling, so the sooner we start the better. But I’m holding the line on the Artic National Wildlife Reserve for now. The oil companies already have millions of acres under lease. Let’s do some drilling in those areas before we decide to screw up an irreplaceable reserve.

Other than finding more domestic oil, there are things that we can start doing immediately, or at least soon, to alleviate some of the energy problems. The first and easiest is recycling. I’m as bad about this as anyone. Start using the little green and red bins. breakdown the cardboard and keep it separate from the garbage. Do the same for newspaper and magazines. Not only does it require less energy to recycle than make new, in the case of plastics we’re actually saving oil directly. Ten to fifteen percent of our oil consumption is used to provide the raw material to make plastic. If we combine recycled plastic with plastic made from plant material we can significantly reduce that percentage. Not recycling is stupid and lazy. Start!

Conservation is the next easiest thing. When an incandescent light bulb burns out, replace it with a fluorescent. We probably need a nudge on this one. How about a two dollar tax on incandescent bulbs. Besides equalizing the initial cost difference between fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, we could use the proceeds to to pay for new bulbs in public buildings. While we’re on lighting, do what your mom told you and turn the lights out when you leave a room. I bet she also told you to take shorter showers, keep the thermostat at a reasonable level and make sure the dishwasher was full before you turned it on. By the way, unless someone just got back from grocery shopping, there isn’t anything new in the fridge. Do you really have to stand there for three minutes looking at each shelf? Staring at the two day old meat loaf is not going to magically morph it into a piece of cheesecake. Save the electricity.

Mass Transit….this will be short and sweet. There isn’t much that we can do in the short term. About the best we can do is expand urban bus lines to some degree and build small light rail lines where they make sense. We simply don’t have the infrastructure in place to make this a big piece of the puzzle and with our demographics, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

The big kid on the block for the short term is going to be alternative fuel vehicles. We’ll look at the options here one by one, but before we do, let’s talk about trucking. Biodiesel, synthethic diesel, dimethyl ether, ethanol, bio gas, fuel cell…all of these alternatives are currently being tested. None of them are promising for trucking. The energy curves don’t work for moving heavy weights. Until something better comes along, we’re stuck with diesel. The bright side is that, if we can move away from fossil fuels for cars and light trucks, staying with diesel for awhile in trucking will work. Now, let’s move on to cars.

Natural Gas Vehicles – Boone’s plan for a large scale switch to NGV’s doesn’t make sense for the reasons I outlined in a previous post. But, there is a place for them in a more diverse solution. Many municipalities have already made a switch to NGV’s. From a fleet standpoint they make sense, at least in the short run. The fuel is cheaper and the reduced range isn’t a problem in an urban environment. If fueling can be done at a central hub then the infrastructure for doing that isn’t a big cost or concern. Every fleet operation should be looking at this option. That includes city, state and federal governments, cab fleets, utility fleets and any other group that is dispatched from a central location.

Ethanol – Nope. There are too many people in the world that need fed. Growing crops to make into a biofuel hurts food prices domestically and limits our ability to sell crops overseas. Unless we can come up with a biofuel that is made from a useless plant like kudzu or spinach then they just don’t make economic sense. Even then, remember that burning anything creates hydrocarbons. I’m not going to get into global warming in this post but, whether humans cause it or only contribute to it, only morons and Rush Limbaugh ignore it as a major environmental issue.

Regenerative Braking Hybrids – like NGVs, these are a stop gap solution, but they are a piece of the puzzle, especially when the oil price is as high as it is now. The best use may be in light trucks where load carrying ability is a major factor.

Plug in Electric Hybrids – This is the saddest story in the post. These hybrids are a great solution for urban and suburban commuters and families. The sad part is that they were the first to be investigated in the 1973 oil crisis but dropped after oil prices fell back. Dropped by everyone except Andy Frank, a dogged engineering professor at the University of California. Mr. Frank has continued PEH vehicle development for thirty years. He’s tried to sell the big three on the concept many times, but finally had to join forces with Toyota to bring them to market. Toyota will have PEHVs in the showroom in 2010. The range will be 50 – 100 miles on electric power and then the car will revert to gas. Most people don’t drive more than 60 miles a day. That means you can count the number of times you fill up at the gas station in a year with the fingers on one hand. The rest of the time you’ll be running off of batteries charged by plugging into a wall socket. The neatest thing is that the break even point of PEHVs compared to conventional gas powered cars occurs when gas is 75 cents per gallon. I can’t remember when gas was that cheap. This is huge and it’s here and now.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles – Along with PEHVs, HFCVs are the holy grail of personal transportation. They produce electricity using a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and the waste byproduct is water. They can run either on stored hydrogen or reform their own hydrogen using one of several options. In vehicles, the most likely candidates for producing hydrogen are Phosphoric Acid fuel cell (PAFC) and Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cell (PEM) processes. Right now it looks like PEM has the lead in vehicle applications. It’s important to recognize that this is not a new technology. NASA has been using hydrogen fuel cells for years (remember my post on the value of space research?). Like PEHVs we should start seeing fuel cell vehicles in 2010 or 2011.

So, we have some options for replacing oil as a vehicle fuel. The key point is that we have to actually exploit the options. History indicates that the American public isn’t going to embrace these new technologies without a push. This is my suggestion. Let’s phase in a tax on new vehicles that don’t meet certain mileage standards. Twenty-eight miles per gallon would be a good start. If your new Ford Expedition gets fifteen miles per gallon then you pay a fuel hog tax. If your new RB Hybrid Ford Escape gets thirty-two miles per gallon then you get a tax credit. We already have the tax credit system in place. It just runs out after a manufacturer sells sixty thousand vehicles. Let’s make the system permanent, eliminate the sixty thousand vehicle cap and add alternative fuel vehicles to the system in a way that recognizes that major advances they represent. When the American public shows that they’ve made the mental shift away from internal combustion power, then we can rethink the carrot and stick approach.

That’s it for this post. The next one will address the plan for alternative generation of electricity for our national power grid. I’m titling that one:

“OPEC, Get Your Claws Out of Us You Blood Sucking Bitch”

See you next time.

TD

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