Saturday, March 07, 2009

using energy sources wisely

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | For nostalgia purposes, I recommend reading President Jimmy Carter's 1977 speech on energy policy. It's spot-on, and Carter's subsequent energy policies managed--among other things--to decrease U.S. oil imports by 50 percent between 1977 and 1982.

One of several ways he did this was by removing oil from the country's electricity production. Since petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel work so well as transportation fuels, Carter believed that oil should be exclusively for them.

Using logic similar to Carter's thinking, Pickens reasons that if we get natural gas out of the electricity production business, we can replace about 25 percent of imported oil with domestic natural gas. This might just work because about 20 percent of imported oil is used to haul goods in 18-wheelers. Those trucks, which often have 650-horsepower engines, will not be made to run on batteries for decades--if ever. But they can be powered by relatively efficient compressed natural gas engines.

The "Pickens Plan" is fundamentally based on the principle that not all energy sources are created equal. As I've argued previously, the physical limits of energy density favor hydrocarbons such as oil and natural gas over virtually all alternatives for energy storage mediums. These physical realities should guide our energy policy--as they did for President Carter.

The biggest obstacle that I see for the Pickens Plan is that tens of billions of dollars already have been invested in natural gas electricity infrastructure over the last 15 years. Obviously, the companies and individuals who made those investments will not be thrilled about natural gas being removed from electricity production.