February 21, 2005

Letter to the Paper ILI

World Changing ran a recent article entitled How Green Was My Atom taking apart a prior paean to nuclear energy. Since getting the entire world to a 1st world lifestyle is not achievable using any one energy source, I found a great deal to take exception with in the article. My critique (in their comments) is below):

It's not a case of either/or, as any serious consideration of the PRC and India would demonstrate in about five minutes. There are a few billion people who want into the 1st world lifestyle and, frankly, conventional sources of power are not sufficient to do it at current rates of efficiency even if you used all available energy sources including renewables and including nuclear. Clearly there is a great deal of gain to be made in making inefficient 3rd world economies run as efficiently as the 1st world. But even if that is accomplished, the amount of energy available via renewables is insufficient for them to handle the job alone. The same goes for any "silver bullet" solution.

This is why hydrogen is so important. Hydrogen provides, not energy per se but, a middleware that allows most types of energy sources to plug into the same major infrastructure and go into the same end user markets, making all sorts of energy sources more economical.

This will lead us all to a future that is persistently multi-fuel. That means that everybody's pet energy source has a place and if you want to drive out all "bad" competitors, your clean/moral/ultra-nifty energy source just has to be the lowest cost producer that can scale to supply everybody. Oh, you can't do that? Back to the lab for you boy scout and let us know when you solve those problems.

In the end, we won't end up back in the caves where Luddite fantasy would like us to go. We also won't end up with the oligarchic Seven Sisters of previous decades either. The energy business will be fed by a large number of small, medium, and large firms that, as a side effect of their other businesses, also produce hydrogen or something that converts very easily to it. Sewage plants, agriculture (all up and down the chain), and various manufacturing concerns will all dip a toe into the energy markets because they all have the potential to turn current waste streams into energy profits. No doubt even "green gyms" will show up with little generators attached to workout machines instead of iron plates. Generate enough energy and your membership is free!

What is not worthwhile, however, is wasting a great deal of time attacking somebody else's favorite form of energy. Sure, we don't want hidden subsidies to distort energy markets but everybody can point to subsidies from petroleum to nuclear to renewables. Let's not have the pot calling the kettle black but figure out a way to fairly unwind them all.

Posted by TMLutas at February 21, 2005 04:07 PM