Energy Alternatives and Dichotomies

The current edition of Energy Tech, an independent publisher for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Power Division, features an article discussing a “hybrid” electrical generating facility consisting of both nuclear and coal gasification technologies to generate electricity, resulting in lower costs and higher efficiencies, and of course, the ever important “smaller carbon footprint.”  To greatly simplify, waste heat and oxygen from the nuclear unit are used to gasify coal rather than being emitted to the environment, resulting in a higher overall energy utilization.  Higher overall efficiencies permit smaller reactors to be incorporated in the design – the overall plant doesn’t have to be as large as a conventional nuclear facility to be economically justified – and thus is more cost effective, on its own merit, at about $850Million for a 775 megaWatt facility.


Closer to home considering Louisiana natural resources, we are inclined to suspect that such a unit would be equally efficient and more cost effective were it to be co-fired with natural gas rather than coal.


Meanwhile, National Review Online, in its Planet Gore blog, is reporting that US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved the construction of “Cape Wind,” a 130 turbine, 420 megaWatt wind farm to be built off the coast of Nantucket at costs currently projected at $1Billion.  The project has been adamantly opposed by the typically liberal NIMBY residents who only want such facilities built in other people’s back yard.  One not only wonders at the sincerity of the Nantucket activists, but also whether their concerns are driven by an awareness that this thing won’t stand on its own merit, but will necessitate subsidies, either in the form of taxation or premium energy pricing, to function.

 (Interesting sidebar: the Cape Wind turbines will be supplied by the German company Siemens AG.  We wonder what happened to GE’s Jeffrey Immelt and his preferential standing with the White House?)


The dichotomy of these two developments is telling.  While some scientists and engineers are looking “outside the box” at modified conventional energy technologies, our government continues to promote their panacea of “green technologies” which Spain, Germany and Denmark have proven to be bad policy economically.


The editor of Energy Tech, Andrea Hauser, cites in her column this month, her lead in to the article referenced above, an observation made by Andrew Revkin of The New York Times DotEarth blog, that current energy technology will not produce enough energy to meet growing world demands, and that we must identify and develop “new, diverse, more efficient ways of producing energy…”  She goes on to note that “this argument doesn’t even take climate change or CO2 emissions into consideration – its focus is supply and demand.”


We must ask where else it should be focused?  Should the demand for energy be addressed with the supply of available resources and available and emerging technologies, or should it be addressed with political ideology and subsidized with tax revenue?


The tragic drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico and the ensuing oil spill will no doubt cause environmental activists to go ballistic over our ongoing dependence on fossil fuels, but the fact remains that oil is available and must be a major player in the domestic energy mix.  If US companies are not allowed to recover it, other nations, with much poorer safety and environmental histories than the US (which that event will certainly overshadow), will.


The United States government is not wrong to supplement research into energy technology, but those funds need to be invested in research to extract greater amounts of the available energy from conventional fossil and nuclear sources, and to further improve the safety of recovering those resources, rather than to subsidize the science fair projects of wind and solar farms which, at the risk of being redundant, we know are economic disasters.  Those funds need to be invested in research to increase the efficiencies of known and emerging technologies, not to substantiate climate change “science” that has already been discredited.


The government of the United States should encourage the development of ideas we know work, rather than ideologies we know don’t.



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