My last article on ethanol got the responses I had hoped for — and confirmed that I can certainly stir up the hornet's nest. So now I'd like to propose a solution to our energy problem, rather than just bash one part of it.
I should start by saying that I do think ethanol can be part of the solution. For a number of reasons, however, its role will be limited. Using ethanol for fuel requires modification of current crops to get higher energy content. We also need to maintain our current food supply and still produce enough crops for export purposes. That said, several states will have excellent opportunities to generate ethanol, although it will be best suited for use in their specific geographical areas, rather than nationwide.
The solution I'd like to propose involves three aspects of the energy issue: consumption, distribution and generation. In order to achieve any meaningful results, several steps are necessary in each of these areas.
In terms of energy consumption, it's important that we increase our use of hybrid vehicles powered by diesel fuel, not gasoline, since we can get more diesel per barrel of crude oil and still burn environmentally friendly. We must also make a concerted effort to develop hydrogen power as a primary source for transportation fuel. Storage is an issue, but if we were able to overcome storage issues for gasoline and propane, we can do the same with hydrogen.
We must put a bounty on all gasoline-powered vehicles that are more than seven years old, and subsidize purchases of newer used cars by those in low-income brackets. And needless to say, we must continue to develop vehicles that are more energy efficient.
On the distribution side, we need to invest in improved transmission and power networks since significant quantities of energy are lost during the transmission process itself. The ability to redirect power along a more efficient network will reduce this loss.
We must also address the generation of energy, and in particular our dependence on fossil fuels. But in the meantime, we need to increase refinery capacity. This will require the cooperation of licensing and environmental groups, both of which have created stumbling blocks. Of course, these new facilities will be required to use fossil fuels and waste material in reasonable ratios.
Where feasible, we need to provide for all types of sustainable power generation, including hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal. None are likely to provide continuous power on their own, but they can be added to the power grid to create more energy. We also need to provide economic incentives for each since as standalone products they are only marginally profitable.
While our primary source of power will continue to be fossil fuel, nuclear power should be a close second. Military bases around the country are closing, and we could use the sites for nuclear power plants. The National Guard could provide security at these locations. In addition, we should offer to provide free electricity to residences (not businesses) currently located within 50 miles of these sites. We should also make it a goal to phase out all fission-based nuclear facilities within 20 years and replace them with fusion-based plants.
A secondary benefit to a nuclear power plant is that it can also be used to generate hydrogen, which could be stored on the site. And if we succeed in creating an efficient and environmental friendly power system, we will have developed yet another product to export.
No doubt, this is a complicated issue, which is all the more reason to keep the special-interest politicians out of the mix for now. A neutral study group would be a good start.