Thursday, February 10, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For - You May Get it.

I have talked about taking pragmatic action very often. There are thousands of examples of how something seemed like a good idea only to result in a less than desired result. My marriage is one perfect example. Marriage in general is a good way to think about how critical choices can be. Half of all marriages end in divorce and the rest of the time somebody dies. Energy related choices are like that, there may be no right answer, only answers that allow us to die of old age or find a new mate. My energy choices boil down to things that will allow us to have fun longer.

Being broke, fighting, name calling and exchanging profane gestures are not my idea of fun. So my recommendations are intended to avoid such undesired outcomes. It requires considerable thought, intelligence, compassion and a little luck to make the right decisions.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFB)sounded like a great little idea to start the energy efficiency, save the planet ball rolling. That idea has problems because CFB cost more, don't last as long as advertised and cause serious pollution problems. States are passing laws to require CFB be used and older incandescent bulbs will become a thing of the past. In cold environments, that waste heat of incandescent bulbs is not actually wasted. So outright banning of regular old light bulbs makes no sense. I am getting ready to retro fit my fluorescent light fixtures with LEDs because I want to use less energy, have reliable light and not have to spend a fortune getting what I want. That solution works for me, but I would never demand that everyone use LEDs. People should think for themselves.

Ethanol from corn sounded like a good idea to reduce fossil fuel dependence and help save the planet. If you have been to the food store lately you may have noticed that turning food into fuel can cause undesired results. If you own an E85 vehicle and pay attention to your cost per mile, you may have noticed that that warm and fuzzy feeling you had when you bought the corn eater is not as warm any more.

Quick and easy fixes rarely work for very long. Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky. So a blend of technologies is probably the most rational choice. Each one of the technologies in the blender needs to be carefully considered.

Wind and solar technologies are intermittent and efficiency and cost to store their peak output for later use is a problem. So how large a role they have in the total energy picture is limited until some problems are worked out.

Hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal electric production is limited by our environment and how much we think we can get away with pushing our limits on our environment. There are areas where some environmental damage is worth the benefits they can provide.

Nuclear has security and waste storage issues. The benefit of some increase in nuclear energy production offsets some portion of those issues but not necessarily all.

Fossil fuels has pollution and security issues, but the investment in fossil fuel energy is too high to just stop. There is a benefit to continued use that decreases with time. Increase conversion efficiency can help mitigate the pollution issues and extend the time until other proven energy sources come online.

There are a variety of energy storage options each with its own advantages and disadvantages. No single one is a silver bullet to be used while the rest are abandoned.

There are a lot of warm and fuzzy thinkers out there that know they have the solution. Before you jump on their bandwagons, be careful what you wish for.

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