Energy concerns

So Bush has finally admitted the US is addicted to cheap oil. He made some statements in his address to the nation:

– Coal. $281 million to develop clean coal technologies “to generate electricity while meeting environmental regulations at low cost.” And $54 million for a “FutureGen” project with the private sector to seek “an emissions-free coal plant that captures the carbon dioxide it produces and stores it in deep geologic formations.”
– Solar power. $148 million, more than double what was sought in 2006, “to accelerate the development of semiconductor materials that convert sunlight directly to electricity.”
– Wind power. $44 million for wind energy research — a $5 million increase over Bush’s 2006 request.
– Ethanol. $150 million, a $59 million increase over 2006, to find a more efficient way to make ethanol, the gasoline alternative now made primarily from corn in the United States. The focus is to use plant fiber from farms that is currently discarded as waste. “Research scientists say that accelerating research into “cellulosic ethanol” can make it cost-competitive by 2012, offering the potential to displace up to 30 percent of the nation’s current fuel use,” the White House said.
– Plug-in hybrids. $30 million, a $7 million increase over 2006, to develop higher capacity batteries for hybrids as well as “plug-in” hybrids that would allow drivers to charge vehicles and run on electric power only. “These vehicles will enable drivers to meet most of their urban commuting needs with virtually no gasoline use,” the White House said.
– Hydrogen. $289 million, a $53 million increase over 2006, to develop fuel cell vehicles that run on hydrogen “with no pollution or greenhouse gases.” Bush in 2003 launched a $1.2 billion hydrogen initiative and the White House said that “through the president’s program, the cost of a hydrogen fuel cell has been cut by more than 50 percent in just four years.”

From The Oil Drum

I found it interesting that the cheapest, and easiest method to reduce our dependence on oil was not even mentioned. Efficiency. We should be pushing for much higher efficiency standards for cars, appliances, and buildings. But of the points he mentions, I’m seeing some problems:

1) Clean burning coal would be nice, but ultimately we are still looking at a finite resource, with a cost peak (2nd half of the production curve becomes dramatically more expensive). This is just a stop-gap.

2 & 3) The increase in funding for wind and solar is a good start, but a drop in the bucket for what it should be. Bush’s Mars Plans are hundreds of billions of dollars, yet we are spending less than a billion on working to change our country’s energy source? Does that make sense? It remains to be seen if we can actually produce these technologies en mass (solar in particular) with out using the cheap energy and resources of oil.

4) Ethanol has some issues for mass use, without cheap oil. At least Bush seems to be pushing biomass vs. the dubious energy return of just corn. But on a whole, commercial farming requires massive amounts of oil for fertilizer and equipment. I’m wondering how long fields will remain productive if you remove all the plant material each harvest. My guess, not very long without fertilizer.

5 & 6) Plug-in hybrids and hydrogen don’t do anything to change our needs for cheap energy. These are just delivery methods for energy.

Why the sudden interest in alternative energy? It just might be that Bush actually read a report. Authored by Robert Hirsch, Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling and titled The Peaking of World Oil production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management, the report is an assessment requested by the US Department of Energy (DoE), National Energy Technology Laboratory. A bit technical for the average reader, but it is still worth looking at (PDF, HTML). Bonus: Audio interview with Robert Hirsch

Wondering what the hell Peak Oil is? Energy Bulletin has a great primer. You will just ride your bike? Well, it is a bigger issue than just your car. Oil is more energy dense than its competitors, and that is without counting its other uses.

Bonus links:

– Ready for $262/barrel oil? Soros and other investors say oil will be in short supply in the coming months.

Carlsbad based start-up says it is planning for a 330 MPG hybrid for under $20,000. It sounds like the supercar from Amory Lovins.

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