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Political Talk Show Host and Internet Radio Personality. My show, In My Humble Opinion, aired on RainbowRadio from 2015-2017.
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Thursday, April 8, 2010
First off all, I hope that everyone who’s read my blog, visited some of the sites I’ve linked to or seen me go after the climate deniers on MMFA, understands that Global Warming is an issue that I take very seriously. I’m certainly no climate denier and pollution in general is also something that I really take to heart. But I’m also an ENGINEER. And I tend to look at energy issue through those eyes and NOT political ones.
It should go without saying that I’m all for Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, and any other form of energy generation that does not consume fuel. And personally I don’t buy the statement that SOLAR TECHNOLOGY is not “ready” to generate our electricity. The Solar technology is FINE. The REAL problem is with our electric grid. A century ago we went with WESTINGHOUSE’s model instead of EDISON’s. You see... Edison bascially envisioned everyone having there own, small, household (DC) power source. Westinghouse envisioned huge, centralized power stations that sent (AC) electricity to the surrounding areas. And that, of course, is the model that won out. And if you think about it, Solar power (at least at the consumer level) is closer to Edison’s model. And our “grid” just wasn’t designed with that in mind.
The other problem is one of initial cost. You always hear, from big oil, big coal, etc… that fossil fuels generate the cheapest electricity. That’s true, from a certain point of view, but it’s also complete bullshit. Solar energy is FREE. Wind energy is FREE. You don’t pay for the wind any more that you pay for the sun. Neither consumes any fuel, so how can it cost ANYTHING per kilowatt hour? It’s per usage cost is… NOTHING. Now, sure, there’s a setup cost. You have to BUILD THE DAMNED THING first. (Unlike coal mines, oil fields and power plants, which I guess just grow naturally out of the ground, right?) So whenever you hear the “cost” of Solar, Wind, etc… stated on a per kilowatt basis, you’d better ask over what amount of time they are allocating the initial setup costs. Considering that a solar panel has no moving parts, and thus won’t “wear out,” it can essentially last indefinitely. Thus any attempt to depreciate it over just a year or two, is completely intellectually dishonest.
Personally, if had to design an electrical system from the ground up NOW, I would go with about a 90% Edison model and about 10% Westinghouse. Because if you turned every ROOF in America into an equally sized Solar panel, you could EASILY generate enough power for residential use, without a doubt. And sure, each house would also need a big battery or two to store excess energy in case you get a cloudy week or two (like we’re having in Michigan right now) and your solar source is just not up to snuff. After that just connect everyone, similar to how we are now except that each house is a GENERATOR of power, rather than a recipient.
Now… it IS likely that we’ll need some additional power for INDUSTIAL centers – assembly plants, steel plants, etc… and for one OTHER thing that it’s high time we switched over to: ELECTRIC CARS. There are only two things that are needed to make the electric car practical for personal use. (1) GET RID OF THE IC ENGINE! It’s 800 pounds of unnecessary steel that would serve no purpose at all if… (2) make the batteries interchangeable, so that I can pull into a service station, drop off my old battery and pick up a new one. (They’d recharge my battery and give it to the next guy.) For this, they could charge, say… in the $10-$20 range to cover the CHARGE and the depreciation of the actual battery. (Batteries would have to be replaced after a couple of years, anyway.) Do THIS? And the only thing we’d need ANY gas/diesel/dino-fuel for is LARGE Freight carriers: Namely: Trucks, Trains, Planes and Ships. I’ll admit that I don’t see our battery technology being up to the task of moving huge amounts of mass over great distances anytime soon. But if the only things on the road burning gas were the already highly efficient diesel trucks? That would be HUGE in terms of pollution reduction.
Now…question is: How would I generate that extra power (for plants and cars) and also, how would I generate power in the mean time until we get to the point of what I’m describing? Coal? No fucking way. We should NEVER build another Coal burning plant ever again. Period. You can’t burn it cleanly. Believing anything to the contrary is nonsense. Even if you could, you can’t MINE it cleanly: It destroys mountains, levels forests and pollute rivers and water supplies with all manner of assorted nastiness. And finally: You can’t store the LEFT OVER ASH cleanly either. Coal is dirty, vile, nasty disgusting stuff, and it’s HIGH TIME we started weaning off of it. Natural Gas? Not bad, but you still have a significant contribution to Global Warming to deal with. You see: You simply cannot BURN a HYDROCARBON without producing CARBON DIOXIDE. It’s a chemical impossibility. Hydro-electric is cleans, but DAMS have some of the largest ecological footprints you can imagine. They alter entire ecosystems. So while they’re CLEAN, they’re not really clean. So what short- to near-term solution do I favor? (And this is where I break with Liberals BIG TIME…)
Nuclear power is the only currently feasible source of energy that can generates anywhere nears the amount of energy we need, without production ANY greenhouse gases. Now… I know there are concerned with safety. If you have those, I suggest you learn about the pebble-bed reactor design. Perfectly safe. And that’s coming from a liberal. Also… I am not ignoring that nuclear power produces some of the single nastiest pollutants one can imagine. But it is specifically BECAUSE of those pollutants that I choose Nuclear over the [Burning Stuff] model. And this is where I stop thinking politically, and start thinking like an engineer:
Although I certainly wouldn't want that shit in my back yard, if I had to chose between having to find a technical solution to safely storing 100,000 tons of uranium, versus 100,000 tons of CO2, I’d pick the Uranium any day. Why? Simple: It’s a dense solid. 100,000 tons of Uranium is about the size of a house. 100,000 tons of gaseous CO2 is about the size of ALASKA. What the fuck are you going to do with that much STUFF? Where the hell would you put it? How would you compress it down into a manageable form? (Hint: You’d run compressors that use MORE energy, thus creating MORE of what it is you’re trying to manage! Oy vey!) But we can do something with a SOLID. Compared to a GAS? The technical problem is almost trivial. I agree that we really do need to do a much better job than we do NOW… But I don’t think we can just throw a switch and change our whole power system overnight either. So in the meantime, Nuclear is the ready option, that meets the need, and that pollutes the planet the LEAST.
So, after all that… We come down to it: How do I feel about Obama opening up the East Coast to OIL DRILLING? You know what? I’m actually OK with it. Not HAPPY, but it’s not yet a deal-breaker for me, even after all I’ve said here. Right now? I’m inclined to view it as one of the same ‘necessary evils’ in energy legislation that I saw in the effort for health care reform: One of those things that might not be popular, but just may be necessary to get something done. And before anyone jumps on me for that statement alone, let me qualify it:
1) I’m very glad that many regions are still off limits, including some of the more fragile, as yet untouched ecosystems. (Like ANWR, for example.)
2) Increased drilling was a part of his energy plan, even on the campaign trail, if you recall, so it’s something I expected anyway.
3) I’m also hearing about CAFE standard being raised to 35 mpg for ALL VEHICLES. I really like that idea, but even so I’d be ecstatic even if it were only 30 mpg.
4) I’m really reserving judgment until I see what role alternative energy and green energy will play in the overall policy moving forward and how serious he is about investing in it.
If throwing the oil industry a bone is what it takes to keep them from eliminating the new CAFE standards, or halting investment in green energy? Fine – let ‘em drill. If the states and the coastal residents want to fight it? Let ‘em. Those people tend to vote Republican, so it’s really their fight anyway. Now… if Obama tosses out that alternative energy investment; opens up the Gulf, the West Coats and ANWR to drilling; kills the new CAFE standards; doesn’t sign any global climate treaties? Fine. I’ll admit I was wrong and gladly join my friend, ClassicLiberal, in the effort to remove him from office. (Assuming there’s a VIABLE alternative and the nomination of a new candidate doesn’t hand the Presidency to Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal. Becasue otherwise: I’ll STILL stick with Obama!)
One final thing…
I never believed in “Drill baby drill.” (I don’t think any thinking person ever really did.) And the best way to break our dependence on foreign oil will be to REDUCE OUR COPNSUMPTION. I know this. I realize that you could drill on every square inch of America and we’d still be buying foreign oil. We simply burn too much of it. BUT, I hate $4.00 a gallon gas as much as anyone. (More so, maybe.) And while I know that this little bit of drilling (or even a LOT of drilling) won’t impact the price of gas more than a nickel or so (at best) I also realize that the market is and IRRATIONAL thing. And if throwing the industry a bone helps STABALIZE gas prices a bit? (Even for no good reason?) I’ll take that. And there’s another thing: MARKET FORCE (high prices) will NEVER get us off Gas by themselves. Reason: Any widely adapted application of green energy will reduce demand for fossil fuels. So the GREENER we get, the CHEAPER Gas (etc…) will get. It will ALWAYS appear cheap compared to the cost of updating our grid, buying an electric car, etc... And it will only get cheaper once we START DOING THESE THINGS! So don’t be fooled into thinking we need high gas prices to get us off gas. It won’t work. As we DO get off gas, the price will only FALL. Going green will take POLITICAL WILL. “The market” won’t care until long after it’s too late to fix anything.