ALTERNATIVE ENERGY – THE HOPE AND THE HYPE

Well, I guess it had to happen. The gulf blowout has brought oil issues to the public attention in a way normally reserved for $4.00 a gallon gasoline. So now we all wring our hands and wonder what’s going on. How come, after 100 years of happy motoring, we’re having all these oil issues? And most importantly, whose fault is it? I don’t know the answer. All I know is that all of a sudden we seem to be having a lot of trouble producing enough oil at a price I want to pay. So what I want now is a solution, and one that isn’t going to inconvenience me. Something like – well – “Drill Baby Drill.” What ever happened to that one?

Someone better think of something fast because all this oil business is really messing up my long term plans. I mean, I know oil is a finite commodity and that we are bound to start running short of it someday. Everyone gets that. So you doomer environmentalists can spare me the lecture. It’s just that I always figured I could keep on with the happy motoring lifestyle at least for another 20 or 30 years then just fob the problem off on my kids. They’ll be bummed. But I won’t care. I’ll be dead. It’s their problem. But now they’re telling me that the stuff we need to keep happy motoring going is going to start running out sooner rather than later. So I need a plan B.

Luckily, as it turns out, the Greens and Al Gore have already worked that out for us. Just build wind mills and solar panels, link them together with a trillion dollars worth of smart grid, wave a magic wand to replace our 300 million gasoline cars with electric, and the problem is solved. Sounds good, but just to be sure, I did the math. And here it is. A barrel of oil can produce about 1.5 megawatt hours of energy. The average wind turbine can generate a maximum of 3 megawatts. However, because of the vagaries of wind, a 3 megawatt turbine will generate 1 megawatt on average. So, each hour, the average wind turbine generates about 1 megawatt hour of energy. Over a twenty four hour period our wind turbine can generate 24 megawatt hours of energy. That’s about 16 barrels of oil. We burn about 20 million barrels of oil in this country each day. So, if each wind turbine can replace 16 barrels of oil, that means we only need 1,250,000 wind turbines to replace our oil. We already have 35,000 megawatts installed right now. So, that’s about 12,000 turbines. Only 1,238,000 to go. I’m thinking if we really kick it, we can put up 50 a day. That’s 18,250 per year. At that rate, we’ll have them all up by the year….. 2078.  So now I’m starting to think alternative energy is not going to be the ticket to keep me mindlessly motoring either. At least not in the time frame I need. I guess that makes sense if you think about it. After all, if windmills were so great, why didn’t the Dutch stick with them?

But, if the oil’s running out, and the windmills aren’t going to keep me on the road, my future is not looking too good. You’re probably thinking the same thing. But stay calm. The problem will ultimately solve itself one way or the other. People have lived for hundreds of thousands of years without gasoline and cars an air conditioning and refrigeration and all that other stuff and they did just fine, didn’t they? Well, I guess it depends on whether you think chasing a Wooley Mammoth with a sharpened stick is a better deal than dinner at the pizza shack. Me, I’m not so sure.

So now I’m thinking that maybe I’ve just been framing the problem wrong. Until now, my attitude has always been, if you can’t come up with something at least as good as oil, then don’t bother me with it. You’re probably like me. And you’ve been thinking, if they can put a man on the moon why can’t they come up with an energy source that doesn’t inconvenience me or require any sacrifice on my part, right? But if that’s not going to happen, maybe what we really need to do is get some perspective on the issue. Let me tell you what I mean. Imagine you’re zipping along in your car when you suddenly run out of gas. Bummer right? One minute you’re cruising down the road like a god from Mount Olympus, and the next, you’re on foot like primitive man. Now, imagine that this takes place in the long, long ago, before cell phones, so you can’t phone for help. What do you do? You do what we did back then. You start walking. At that point, a horse or a bicycle starts to look pretty good.

And that’s what I mean about perspective. Compared to what we have today, a world run on renewables maybe doesn’t look so good. However, compare it to a world where everyone’s on foot and living in mud huts or whatever and it starts to look a lot better. Not that there’s anything wrong with walking. But when you’ve been on foot for a while, a horse or a bicycle starts to look pretty good. And a train looks like a veritable magic carpet. And, if we act while we still have the chance, alternative energy might be able to deliver something along those lines.

But, here’s the thing about alternative energy. Just like you’ve got to dig a well before you need the water, you’ve got to build your alternative energy system while you’ve still got the oil to help you build it. Sitting around yelling “Drill Baby Drill” while the oil to runs out will guarantee that your kids will be on foot. They’ll be out there trying to build a wind and solar powered system with hammer and tongs. And that’s going to be a real bummer. So, I guess my thinking is, when it comes to alternative energy and alternative transportation systems, I’m not going to hold out for something as good as what we have. My attitude is – does it beat walking? If it does, I’m all for it. And I’m all for it right now.

Don’t agree with me? That’s fine. I don’t have crystal ball. But have fun walking.

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2 responses to “ALTERNATIVE ENERGY – THE HOPE AND THE HYPE

  1. “drill baby drill”?.. you sound like some kind of dick cheney sympathizer.

    • Well Scott, or can I call you Scooter? I was totally down with “drill baby drill” as an easy way to keep me on the road with absolutely no sacrifice required on my part. Like most Americans, I’ve tried to base my lifestyle on maximizing my pleasure today with the least amount of sacrifice on my part and the consequences to be paid later down the road and hopefully by others. But reality seems to be putting a serious damper on that lately. You’ve probably noticed the same thing.

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