Any amount, no matter how little of watching, reading or listening to popular or mass media, politicians and pundits would have regular folks wondering when we’re ever going to start on alternative energy and fuel sources.  This in the face of more ethanol than the 10% already in the system forming an oversupply problem compared to the current price for farmer’s corn, now less than the revenues farmers received when they got the cash price plus the government’s subsidy payments.  The users of corn groan that corn is too expensive when the subsidized price they used to pay is coming back.  This is the first example of alternative fuels getting way too successful – the ethanol slow motion bust is the first example.

When this writer hears the cry calling for American to “begin” the transition to cleaner energy, even from the president’s office – an inward groan forms.  Actually with the ethanol example much credit is due to the Bush and Clinton administrations.  Ethanol when limited to 10% of the gasoline market is mature – no thanks to the current leadership.  Even more can be said for polices, research and development, investment and in some places long strings of red aircraft warning lights atop great fields of wind turbines. If anything – Congress has failed to keep the tax matters and accounting stabilized when the incentives come and go.

That points to the Bio Diesel industry which can’t get seem to get stability from Congress. Plants are closing up, vegetable oil prices are in free fall, and new ways of ‘disposal’ are being examined for the oils.  No one with any sense will trust the tax, accounting and finance area for Bio Diesel.  Its no wonder bio diesel things are floundering.

Incentives are critical.  Here is why.  Energy and fuel markets are entrenched, fundamental for the modern economy and essential for standards of living.  The current markets have decades of incentives, investments and dividends of their own in place, often forgotten and overlooked.  An example can be seen in the fission nuclear energy market where the regulatory field is built up to give the best (really only) consideration to existing technology that just gets bigger when the reality is the market needs designs to get smaller, use other fuels, and be much less expensive for both the certifying a reactor design, but the costs of running a reactor as well.  Government regulation has the entirety of nuclear potential fully barriered from use in the U.S.

All is not lost.  Biofuels have uncounted possibilities from research to development and pilot plants busily getting closer to displacing more petroleum.   Wind is getting more mature, wind turbines are getting better and just how to use combined wind resources is getting more attention and testing might be coming soon.  Solar thermal and photovoltaic are gaining ground with solar thermal getting stronger and photovoltaic technology getting better and cheaper.  Solar is coming.

Geothermal at the small level is doing OK and could use better incentives.  Large geothermal numbers look better with each passing year. Technology is closing the gaps for deep heat extraction.  Deep hot geothermal is looking very good, still a way out there, but very good.

On the consumption side a weak economy is having its way keeping energy and fuel use in low demand – the situation won’t last – but most new equipment buyers with a bit of clean green in mind are choosing more responsible cars, furnaces and other tools.

With the biggest and most widespread market of decision makers, the light transport market looks to be the place for the most improvement.  The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf cars should sell late this year.  These are truly worthwhile choices for leading adopter buyers.  The Tesla stock sale went very well indeed.

But ‘fuel economy’ as expressed in miles per gallon can be tricky.  Going from 20 mpg to 27 as the old mandate forced brought a 35% improvement.  The new 34 mpg mandate from 27 is only 21%.  The suggestion of 44 mpg – so far unobtainable for designs most people would want to buy – would net 22% from 34 mpg.  The easy savings are already in the market – pushing more could seriously backfire.

Government, private investors and big companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP from big oil and GE, Panasonic, Hitachi, and venture capital are throwing plenty of R&D dollars at the bio fuels and electrical storage challenges. Within a few years we might be at the point where billions of incentives for advanced biofuels and electrical storage would result in hundreds of such facilities actually being built.  Why wait?  Why sunset the incentives on short leashes?

The utter ignorance of saying “begin” seems insulting across the whole of the energy and fuels market place.  Getting serious at the public mass media and political discourse level would be more worthy.  The target needs to be something along the lines of reaching the point at which the alternatives are unambiguously better/faster/cheaper than fossil oil and coal, or can at least match their cost and convenience in primary transportation and electrical power generation.  Only then could a phase out of incentives begin – for every source of energy and fuel.

This leads to the call for you to answer the insult by contacting your president, senator and congressperson and voting for some sensible discussion.

Begin?  Bah, we’re in the second quarter of the game.  The opposition is getting pretty clearly visible and it not the human genius, technology or risk money or capital – it’s the public policy mired in political maneuvering for the lowest common denominator.  It’s enough to drive the well informed to anger.  Speak up; let the media and politicians know there’s one less dope out there than they think.


10 Comments so far

  1. Matt Musson on July 6, 2010 10:24 AM

    We use fossile fuels because they are a) energy dense, b) transportable and c) easy to use.

    When we have a genuine alternative we will take it. When we get an electric car I can take to Myrtle beach for the weekend (250 miles each way) without being inconvenienced (charging for 12 hours to get home) I will consider purchasing one.

  2. D Trahan on July 10, 2010 3:56 PM

    Fossil fuels are here for the time being. Compared with all potential new entries in the transportation sector it’s by far the entrenched leader. I say entrenched because of the advantage of distribution and 250 million plus vehicles issuing it. We need to take a longer term approach to bringing in alternative fuels. We need them all green and black. Ethanol has had 30 years of support when does it grow away from subsidies. We ought to consider subsidies based upon full production cycle btu value and the overall scale possible. Everyone knows biodiesel on soy only feedstock has far too little feedstock to really make a dent.

  3. Roman Nykyforuk on July 13, 2010 6:49 AM

    Fossil fuels are here and will be around for generations to come. While alternative energies will become more acceptable, we humans are creatures of comfort and will only understand and accept changes when they become a financial burden to us. US is a classic example – we push things to the limit, sometimes to a breaking point, and only then we react and in many cases too long. Cost is the main factor to make society take a serious look at what we are doing. I am confident that at $10.00 per gallon for fuel, researchers and industry will work feverishly to solve of problems. Profit is the only thing that drives us today and hopefully all this new alternative energy will be profitable for someone.

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