The past two weeks have seen T. Boone Pickens offer his solution to the fuel prices issue and Sunday saw the short version of the Andrew Grove and Robert Burgelman article published by the Washington Post. I admire all three of these men.

T Boone Pickens

I met Mr. Pickens about 25 years ago at, if memory serves, at a meeting to do with securities and funding wildcat oil projects. He spoke just as slowly and gentlemanly then, and seems every bit as sharp now. He has flourished and been through stagnation with the oil business all his life.

Andrew Grove

Andrew Grove you may recall was CEO of Intel the giant microprocessor company for 11 years. He’s had time since retiring in 1998 to look into issues in depth and has authored 5 or 6 books. Working with him is Robert Burgelman a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Their offer is a similar view into the future as seen the Washington Post piece and the longer version at The American Magazine.

Robert Burgelman

Both suggestions offer more electricity, Grove directly to transport and Pickens through reducing natural gas use for generating electricity and using it for motor fuel instead of gasoline. As much as I like Mr. Pickens, I have to say his plan is only a segment and could be a temporary part of the Grove and Burgelman plan. I presume most of us with a smattering of physics know-how are a bit put off by hauling about highly compressed flammable gasses. Natural gas in compressed form would make a fine motor fuel, but there is little to be gained in engine efficiency unless refined to methane and used in a fuel cell.

The Grove and Burgelman plan is just what we’ve been talking about here for a year. The migration to vehicle power sets that are electric and the inherent efficiencies cannot be avoided if we as the world’s consumers hope to maintain or increase our standards of living. The American Magazine article is so well done, I’m a little wistful that I hadn’t compiled something similar earlier.

The premise for both Mr. Pickens and Grove/Burgelman is to generate lots more electricity. While Pickens has his money justifiably on wind alone there are solar photovoltaic and thermal, solar drives wind and ocean wave, solar powers all of biomass in every form, there are uranium and thorium fission from generation IV uranium to still in development thorium, fossil fuels of coal, oil and natural gas, plus hydro-electric all that do or can be made to work very fast indeed if government gets with it. That doesn’t include a fusion breakthrough or some new take on physics that turns out to work. This more completely illustrates the point Grove and Burgelman make that electricity can be widely sourced – not one “source” determines the health of the economy.

The key is vehicles that at least to start and in part use electricity for power. The major automobile manufacturers are slowly catching on. Yet speeding that up is a prime goal for any plan or policy to be effective. For us to save big on gasoline we’ll need to replace the vehicles with something – and today the choices are very limited – and very little is coming soon.

But Grove/Burgelman offer that converting existing pickups, vans, SUVs and such could reduce oil imports by 50 to 60% an estimate I find a challenge to conceive. It’s a fact that those guzzlers are the major source of the problem and I hope their calculation is on the mark. But how to get 80 million of those things converted to hybrid electric drive is quite an imaginative test.

Grove and Burgelman offer that government incentives, tax deals and mandates are needed. I groan at the thought – but I’m wily enough to concede that most people with investment money are going to factor the federal and state effects before choosing what to do. So – groan – OK.

Those three links above are well worth your time. Before you go I want to take a shot with you on the “Energy Independence” thing that is circulating again. What that means is unique to everyone thinking about it. It would be worthwhile to consider a view that independence really means that not just one source of energy or fuel can cripple an economy. That is to say the dominating role of petroleum products in transport has to be ended. Which is not to say completely ended or never to imported again.

Both the Pickens and the Grove/Burgelman plans are paths to get us there. Moreover, if America leads, much of the world will follow and the energy supply dependence on petroleum will end. On the other hand, petroleum is just about the richest concentrated source of sunshine and by no means can I believe that the need and usefulness of petroleum will end. I see the prospects of these fine men’s proposals to be good starts on a vastly wealthier and healthier world. It’s time for every one to get up to speed and expect more from the government and business community.


11 Comments so far

  1. Is It News or Propaganda | New Energy and Fuel on July 23, 2008 6:07 AM

    […] – like Al Gore. Humbled by the elegant simplicity of Dr. Jim Sweeney at Stanford, taken aback by the raw personal commitment of T. Boone Pickens, and impressed by the class and depth of thought and assessment by Andrew Grove and Robert […]

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