Clean Energy Revolution not Fueled by Government

Clean Energy v Coal

About ten or so years ago a friend of mine told me with absolute certainty that Clean Energy would never amount to more than two percent of the United States energy needs and that I was an idiot for saying otherwise. Well, in April 2019 clean energy accounted for a greater percentage of our energy than did coal. Bub, you were wrong and will continue to be more wrong with every passing year.

I’m not here to gloat about my clean energy predictions but to talk about how this revolution is happening not because of government but in spite of it. Various groups have long promoted solar, wind, and natural gas as better sources for energy because they don’t cause nearly the pollution as generated by coal. To hasten this transition of energy away from coal, such people advocated massive government encouragement, read tax breaks and subsidies, to the purveyors of clean energy. I argued that instead of subsidizing clean energy, we should simply stop doing so for coal and oil.

President Obama and the democrats largely agreed with the sentiments expressed by the clean energy crowd. They implemented plans to help spread the use of such energy and had some successes and some failures.

Enter President Trump. He essentially has the opposite plan. He wants to encourage the use of coal and dispense with helping clean energy. He has had some successes and some failures in his plans.

The reality of the situation is quite easy to see from any graph showing production associated with coal and clean energy in the last twenty years. Coal rarely dropped below 150 gigawatt-hours of energy prior to 2010. Now they never even reach this level and it is unlikely to ever rise that high again. The trend is obvious but what is driving it?

I’m happy to tell you; capitalism completely disassociated from government. Investors, builders, and entrepreneurs have no desire to invest in coal-based plants because there is more money to be made from clean energy power plants. If you’re mining coal, working at a coal-fired plant, hauling coal on the railroad, or doing anything associated with coal; start making plans to do something else. Not today, not tomorrow, but eventually; capitalism is talking and it’s not mincing words.

The most important thing to understand is this is all good and natural, as was the rise of coal in the first place. If government just stayed out of the energy business altogether, we’d likely be much further along in this process. If you enjoy breathing air and drinking water, you should be sad we are not.

Did the Obama era clean energy policies help promote them? Certainly. Have the Trump era coal energy policies helped extend the coal era? Certainly. Neither has a chance against the true forces of capitalism. Stop subsidizing energy altogether. It’s best for all of us.

Tom Liberman

Natural Gas Production vs Reserves

Energy IndependenceThe United States is undergoing what some call a second energy boom although this time it is natural gas rather than oil. The process of Hydraulic Fracturing allows for the extraction of huge amounts of natural gas which can be used for energy. This boom is creating jobs and some controversy over the damage the process may do to the environment.

My topic of discussion today is not the potential danger or safety of the processes used to extract natural gas but the idea that the United States would be wise not to rely on this apparent boom as a means to end their energy dependence on foreign nations.

The United States currently is second in the world in production of natural gas pulling up 651 million cubic meters per year. This vast production has given many people the illusion that the United States has a limitless supply of natural gas with which to feed our massive energy demands. This is sadly, false. The United States is also the number one importer of natural gas in the world and the worse news is the names of the countries that have the most proven reserves of the gas circa 2008.

Here’s the list by rank: Iran, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and then the United States. Do the names on that list look familiar?

Russia, like the United States, is searching for and exploiting their reserves which amount to five times those of the United States but Iran has barely touched theirs. Venezuela has almost as much proven reserves as the United States but, being oil rich, has largely not exploited these reserves.

Here’s the problem from my perspective. If we rely on this resource we will end up dependent on countries like Russia and Iran to provide for our energy needs. This is not a good plan for the security of our country. Energy independence is a vital step in assuring our safety and indeed the security of the world. One of the reasons for the terrorism we see from the Middle East is our meddling in their affairs to obtain oil and the fact that money flows to these countries in exchange for said oil.

We should exploit our natural gas reserves. I’m for using our own resources. This gas is extremely useful in lessening our dependence on foreign nations for our energy demands in the short-term but the distribution of the resource indicates this will not last long.

The long-term answer to our energy needs lies in renewable resources and/or nuclear power. The feed-in tariff system used by Germany to encourage the use of these renewable resources seems extremely viable and is working well. One has to be careful because the same sort of system in Spain has caused problems; largely because the Spanish government reduced the cost of producing the energy too much and didn’t gradually lower the tariff as did Germany.

The world is slowly moving towards an energy grid wherein power is both cheap and readily available. If the United States refuses to move in the same direction we will fall behind in many ways. A nation that has huge reserves of power sells it to other countries accumulating massive amounts of money. This money can be used to influence the rest of the world. Cheap power means cheap production, cheap transportation, and inexpensive goods. The country with these things gains a tremendous advantage over other nations.

If we count on local coal, oil, and natural gas to meet our energy demands while other nations continue to build their potentially limitless renewable and nuclear options we will steadily lose our influence in the world. And again, don’t get me wrong; we should continue to explore for and use coal, oil, and natural gas. The days of cheap and abundant energy are not yet here. But they are coming and it would be wise to be ready for that time.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. It’s not “drill-baby-drill” at the expense of solar credits. It’s not an unsustainable renewable system with a moratorium on fossil-based energy. We are a great nation. We can and should do both.

A nation that has limitless energy has political power, military power, scientific power, influence. I’d like that nation to be the United States. Wouldn’t you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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