This is the 7th (actually the 9th with the intro and one added issue) in a series of issues for discussion when choosing our next representatives to Congress. 20 Issues – 40 Weeks

Let’s start with where we stand today.  All data following is about the U.S.A.

We consume around 7 Billion Barrels of oil per year.  That’s 294,000,000,000 gallons.

We import about 57% of that, or a little more than 4 Billion Barrels.

We consume about One Billion Tons of coal each year.  By the way, we have the largest proven coal reserves of any nation in the world with over a quarter of the known reserves.  Russia is a distant 2nd with about 17% of the reserves.  China, the biggest user is a distant third in proven reserves with less than half what the U.S. has.

We have about 80 million kilowatts of hydroelectric power generating capability and produce anywhere from 5 – 12% of our electricity each year from hydro. We are second only to Canada in production of Hydropower.  It is interesting to note that only about 2,400 of the 80,000 dams in the U.S are used to generate hydropower.  It is also interesting to note that hydropower generates almost one quarter of the world’s electricity yet typically less than a tenth of ours.

We generate about 12 Billion kilowatt-hours of electricity using of nuclear power.  That is about 20% of our electricity.

We make about 10 Billion gallons of biofuel annually.   We are the largest producer in the world.  Brazil is second at about 60 t0-70% of our production.  The entire EU produces about 10% of what we do.

All of this powers the largest economy on the face of the earth and about the highest standard of living.

With the stated purpose of gaining energy independence, the U.S. Government formed the Department of Energy in August of 1977. Today that Department has about 15,000 employees and almost 100,000 contractors and a budget of over $26,000,000,000 ($26 Billion) dollars annually.

Are we better off for having the DOE or not?  I think that is a valid question for any candidate for national office.  I think it is important to know how every candidate would vote regarding Energy policy.  Here is the direction that I think we need to go and what I will be using to judge the candidates.  Each of these issues is covered VERY briefly.  I hope there is enough explanation to make it understandable.

1.  Ethanol Subsidies are mainly corn subsidies and have little to do with Energy.  With rare exception, if you remove the subsidies for corn, soy beans, etc., it takes as much cost and energy to produce ethanol as the energy it represents.  We need to stop subsidizing ethanol.  It is now required that we add ethanol to gasoline in most parts of the country.  If we had to pay the true cost, less the subsidies, this would be a hot political issue.  It should be anyway.

2.  Photovoltaics, Wind, Tidal and other Solar Energy.  We need to spend money on research and pilot projects.  Large scale subsidies of energy production from means that are not yet economic, must have a very valuable research objective, or they need to be curtailed.  Point of Use Solar (photovoltaic and wind and water) needs to be encouraged since it cuts out much of the cost of distribution.  It is estimated that we lose over 6% of our electrical energy just through transmission losses and that doesn’t count the cost of the transmission infrastructure.  It allows for actual economies not based on scale but based on lower cost of delivery.

3. Electric, Hybrid, Diesel and other high mileage Vehicles.  Since about 65% of our oil is used to fuel our vehicles, transportation energy is a huge part of the Energy Issue.  Electric vehicles show promise and have the advantage of having a variety of ways of producing the electricity (hydrocarbon fuel, hydro, wind, solar, nuclear).  They also have the downside of inefficient transmission and storage.  Where I think there may be hope and where I would put R & D money is in point of use solar or wind generated electricity used to power vehicles garaged at the site where the power is produced.  For example, if a homeowner had a small solar generator and used the power generated from his rooftop to power his local use and commute car, I think that would make sense to investigate.  Until battery technology advances, I think hybrid vehicles are inefficient.  They burden the gas engine with a huge weight in batteries to store the electricity for the electric portion of the drive mechanism.  They also burden the electric drive system with carrying around a spare gas engine and the fuel system to power it.

4.  To encourage use of alternatives, including walking, mass transit, non-hydrocarbon vehicles, we need incentives.  We should consider a gas tax of $2 to $5 per gallon, phased in over 5 years.  If the funds generated were placed in a separate account, the proceeds of which could be used only for Highways, Bridges, and other transportation infrastructure, it would create a few valuable incentives. Since the price of gas would be so high (close to European costs), there would be the incentive to plan and use trips more wisely. Manufacturers would have incentives to build more fuel efficient vehicles.  There would be a transfer of sales activity from face to face (transportation driven) to computer to computer or phone to phone (communication driven).  Would this be a hard sell?  Of course it would.  I don’t think 25% of the population would believe that the funds collected would be used for the designated infrastructure.
The preferred alternative, of course, would be to have the price market driven.  That means we would have to remove most of the government restrictions on the import, drilling, storing, transporting, and selling of transportation fuels.  My guess is that this would also drive the price up to much higher levels and provide the incentives for more conservation and efficiency.

5.  Nuclear. We need to revisit nuclear power and see, like Japan and France, if it does not make sense to get back into the nuclear power business.

6.  Point of Use Solar (photovoltaic, wind and water).  As stated above, there a good reasons to direct alternative production of electricity to generation at the point of use.  The cost of building and maintaining energy transmission infrastructure is huge.  I would want my representative to be serious about encouraging alternatives at the point of use.  To illustrate why I think this deserves more attention, let us look at fueling electric cars.  Today if you want to “fuel” your electric car, you must plug into the massive infrastructure that both produces and transmits the electricity to you.  Somewhere, Natural Gas or Diesel or Coal or Hydro or wind, etc. is used to generate the power.  That power is then conditioned into electricity that can be transmitted efficiently (remember the 6+% transmission loss)to a station near your point of use.  Then the electricity is again conditioned for local transmission to your location where it is again conditioned to become useable 110 or 220 volt a.c. current.  Instead you could have a windmill on your property that generates electricity and conditions and delivers it directly to the batteries in your car.  Would you buy a car that would never need fuel for $50,000?  If you could get a $25,000 electric car and couple it with a $25,000 solar system (about 5 KW), that is about what you would have.  And, as the number of units of solar systems increases, the cost per unit will fall.

7.  Hydro Electric Power. It would be nice to see a candidate who would work to encourage the conversion of some of the 97% of dams in the U.S. that are not currently producing hydropower.  As stated above, a quarter of the world’s electric energy is from hydro power and yet we only produce a a few percent of our electric needs.  I would love to see a candidate state that he would work hard to stop the Federal Government from removing hydroelectric dams based on the excuse of “saving the environment” or ” protecting fish”.  A perfect example is the Klamath Basin in Oregon and Northern California.  It is a long and difficult issue but the end result will be the removal of 4 or 5 hydroelectric dams at a cost (3 years ago’s estimate) of over $450 Million and habitat restoration of over $1 Billion.  This fails to account for how to handle the years of buildup of silt in the bottoms of the reservoirs and the environmental damage it will do when released at one time into the system.  It also means we will need to find a new source of power for about 70,000 people (current output of the dam’s hydro systems).

Most of the data is from US government websites but you should still consider this as opinion, not fact.  There is so much more to discuss in the energy area that this could get much longer.  Instead, I will stop here.  I would appreciate your comments, questions and contributions.  I am anything but an expert on this subject and would welcome both confirming and contradicting opinions.