Now that everyone with any sense is noticing, the plans and policy measures, suggestions, speeches and letters are coming out. Are they news? Are they propaganda? Food for wonks? Worthwhile or a waste of time? Some of each in varying degrees in every case. Some eerily remind of old black and white films of speeches made in the 1930s that broke open the “propaganda” mold and over the years has become disinformation as practiced by sovereign states to mislead the citizens of other countries. It’s getting damn hard to tell. But some are just resolutely educational, informative and eye opening. Even for me – and I get to read and see a lot of stuff every day before I choose something to share with you. There are 156 ideas for posts languishing in a file unstudied, unposted.

That makes it little disconcerting when these things come out. I am just disgusted by some – 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 Burgelman.

Now others have followed the best of these with fresh takes on the problem.

Richard K. Lester

A particularly good one is MIT Professor Richard K. Lester’s speech “Energy Innovation: What’s Here and What’s Coming” given to the National Governors Association for their Centennial Meeting last week. The part that jumped out at me is on page three of the prepared transcript. Forgive me I’m paraphrasing, Professor Lester offers that as the whole of the world’s economy improves more people are adding energy and fuels to their lives and the customer base is growing vastly while supplies are tight. He goes on to point out that by mid century electrical demand could triple worldwide. The view is that some might think that would be a form of profligate and irresponsible consumption, it means something else entirely. “I point out that this would mean, roughly speaking, that the richest billion of the world’s population at that time would be using electricity at about the same rate that the average American uses it today, the middle 7 billion would be using it at a rate that the average Chinese is likely to reach in just a few years (or a bit more than a third of the average American’s usage today), and the poorest billion would still have no electricity at all.” He goes to say, “The second problem is that for at least the next several decades the world will remain heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf for its premium fuels.”

He is in a major way correct. The problem we’re experiencing today is only just a first step. The only holdback is the price for fuels and the energy that sets the pace that new customers achieve access. These are both dynamic numbers that will only be certain as they occur, but occur in some dimension they will. He is only mentioning electricity.

What is touched is energy security and hugged is climate change. As regular readers know we’re not buying the CO2 junk, but are worried about dumping all the other stuff into the air. As a professor I assume he cannot avoid the climate change bit, but he does recognize the inherent risks forced on everyone by the guzzlers and wasters. We are far from holding those members of the economy responsible for their choices. The good professor goes on to talk about things that governors will appreciate, taxes and regulations and such. A list if you will, of things to worry about, fight about and in some way as citizens to get a responsible result – as its becoming clear that consumers don’t think about the energy security of the whole when revved up to buy that car, appliance, etc.

By the end Professor Lester offers a comparison to the Apollo Program and the Manhattan Program as ways to engage in hunting for the solutions for the future with the Marshall Plan. The difference being that the Marshall Plan brought lots of ideas into practice and allowed time and experience to drive the best to the top versus the single predetermined goals of Apollo or Manhattan projects. A point worth repeating a few hundred million times. Well done professor, thank you.

Institute For 21st Century Energy

Opposed to this is an open letter to the U.S. Congress. I ask myself what is the point of that? Not much unless millions of us read it too! This might be the very best preparation of the situation and what government could be productively doing. I find I have little to berate here – well nothing actually – it’s rather general.

Its signed by a bunch of luminaries from Democrats Sam Nunn and Charles Robb to Republicans Howard Baker and Spencer Abraham, plus just a bunch of military, professional administrative, and a few business people. The cover is under the auspices of the Institute for 21st Century Energy a creature of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now before you recoil, check it out. The letter is mostly about general policy and getting things private moving and getting the regulators and bureaucrats corralled. But the outstanding thing is the 13 items that need addressed. I’m saving it and looking it over several more times. The list alone is that handy.

The list touches on the very big issues. Essentially nothing is commented on about a specific technology. Industrial sectors are addressed – they exist, but the letter is constructed in such a way that reason dictates the most expeditious steps to be taking for acting in the national interest. I am quite surprised; it’s very professional, patriotic both to the U.S. and humanity as a whole. It is something every leader, from the spiritual to the business, government to the family unit needs to have in mind in every country, not just the U.S.

Ah, well. The letter also pats the climate change thing too. Its about as mild as I’ve seen of late. It looks like the energy/fuel/oil prices/gasoline prices and soon to be added others just can’t be handled without the climate folks having a say. For all the good offered by these signers, the climate change thing could derail the future in a dreadful way.

Is it news or propaganda? A bit o’ both, but mostly these examples are educational. I have been warned that I might not be able to avoid the politicization of my favorite field, energy and fuels. But the truth is its been political since someone yelled, “Don’t cut that tree down!” some thousands of years ago. Some things never change . . .


2 Comments so far

  1. Charles Barton on July 23, 2008 5:04 PM

    There are two major weakness of all of the plans that I have seen to date. One is that to some extent they are dependent on continued use of some fossil fuels. This is is not satisfactory if our goal is to control global warming. The other major flaw is a complete failure to explore the potential of Alternative Nuclear Power. By Alternative Nuclear Power I mean alternatives to building ever larger and more expensive Uranium Fuel Cycle Light Water Reactors. Alternative Nuclear power can include Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, other Thorium Fuel Cycle reactors, and Pebble Bed Reactors. It would include small factory built reactors, that can be built cheaply and quickly through mass production assembly lines. Alternative Nuclear would include innovative siting approaches. Under ground and underwater sites, for example, would provide high degrees of accident related safety, plus protection against terrorist attacks.

    The Pebble Bed Reactor is currently being developed in both South Africa and China, Small PBR can be mass produced. Small PBRs can can be grouped to produce as much power as desired, with plants producing powers within months of the first unit order. Cost per unit of power would be smaller than for Light Water Reactors. The PBR is highly safe, and it can be air cooled, With mass production thousands and even tens of thousands of PBRs can be factory built in the next 40 years, Large scale factory production will dramatically lower unit costs.

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors have more advanced features features than the PBR. Because they are closed fuel cycle reactors they use a tiny fraction of the fuel used by other reactors. The do not produce nuclear waste. All of the fission products that leave the reactor can be us in Industry, medicine, food preservation, or sanitation. Most thorium cycle byproducts will be safe within a generation. Thus the problem of nuclear waste will be largely eliminated.

    Like the PBR, the LFTR is highly safe, safer than conventional reactors. It can be placed in unconventional sites. The LFTR can be mass produced on assembly lines at costs that should be lower than conventional reactors. Like the PBR is can be set up in groups of units. The LFTR can follow the load of electrical demand. Given high volume production, LFTRs prices may be lowered enough to use LFTRs as peak power producers.

    There is enough assured thorium reserve in the United States to power the entire economy for at least 400 years, the probable thorium reserve is huge will power the United States for as long as we need energy. Except for solar water heating, and some solar space heating, virtually all energy requirement can be meet through LFTR produced electricity. LFTR’s are proliferation resistant, but not proliferation proof, and therefor should not be sold to rogue states.

  2. Brian Westenhaus on July 24, 2008 9:57 AM

    Thanks Charles! To get to Charles site click on his name at the top of the comment. Its a rich site on thorium.

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