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High oil prices have unleashed a flood of venture capital and creative genius on the problems of energy and global warming. Hardly a day goes by without another credible breakthrough in turning sun, wind, waves, water and who-knows-what into useful energy. Even if the vast majority of those ideas don't pan out, the surviving ideas will probably be enough to make oil obsolete. That's my guess anyway. And I think it will happen at Internet speed when it finally ramps up, not the usual fifty year horizons you always hear about.

The thing I wonder is whether the government has any useful role in fostering these advances, other than staying out of the way. You hear the candidates for president talking about encouraging this, or incenting that, or catalyzing whatever. But when billions of dollars of profit are on the line, does anyone need any extra incentive? I doubt it. The market should be taking care of that stuff, and seems to be moving in the right direction.

What can a president do to make any difference in the energy situation? Be specific. Discuss.
 
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Sep 2, 2008
simply put, I think the best thing the president can do to "minipulate" companies into finding new energy sources is to give them incenteve like funding or tax break if they do it. You may say that this is impossible seeing the state of the economy, but if you tax imports on oil and compinies that outsource or do other bad stuff like burn down the rain forest or slaughter mannaties to make mannaiyse, you should have enough money to support this plan.
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
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The President is limited in what he can guarantee in terms of budget, or laws, or even meeting his campaign promises. What he can do is create an attitude for success.

In the 1960's JFK said the following: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too"

If you change the goal from going to the moon, to instituting sustainable energy programs and technologies, the attitude is the same.
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Wrong. If you said, we choose to create a spaceship that can travel at the speed of light to take everyone to a variety of 20 different earthlike planets where we can all live in harmony, by the end of the decade, that wouldn't be doable. So scope is everything, they are not the same thing.
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
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The point we need to see is that oil is very valuable. You can make plastics, drugs, roads, and jet fuel out of it. We have to stop using it to make cars move or houses warm. Otherwise our grand-children will be grumpy when they find out we took all those useful hydrocarbon molecules and just burned them up in cars.
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No, actually you can't just refine the oil into anything you want, there are specific parts of it that go to produce specific things. You can't just go in and produce all plastic out of it, or all jet fuel. So as long as we're using plastics, we're going to have this product called gasoline sitting around, which will be used somewhere by someone.
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
I see a huge free market profit motive that could drive us toward a solution to the energy crisis, but what is the profit incentive for solutions that prevent global warming? If the "free market" will solve the energy crisis rapidly without government assistance, why don't we already have a solution from the crisis in the 1970's? (Which is either the last crisis or the begining of this crisis depending on how you want to count it). My suspicion is that the current wave of investment in alternate energy is a fad and that fad will wane long before a replacement for oil is found.

There are lots of ways that the government could help drive us to a solution. If you want to achieve foreign oil independence, the government could help a great deal by guaranteeing that they will institute a tax structure that will keep oil-based energy prices high or long term subsidies to keep alternate energy prices low -- therefore guaranteeing a payoff for R&D investment now. If you want a global warming solution, individual items need have their prices reflect how much making and using them will contribute to global warming (this is most easily done by a government tax).
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
Just make sure our schools are churning out people who are good with science and technology and a lot of our problems will at least have a better chance of finding a solution more quickly.
 
 
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
The government should do what it has done in the past - fund basic research and use the system of National Labs to do and support that research. This is where many of the really big jumps in technology have come from, especially in advanced materials. And that is where the big gains in power generating efficiency are going to come from - new materials that are better are converting the sun's energy (solar, wind, or wave) into electricity and trun that electricity efficiently into desirable motion or heat. Unfortunately, the bush administration is pretty much anti-research and anti-basic science, so there isn't any support for it. The "X-Prize" comcept is fine, but it still puts the onus of the research on the private sector, and there are a limited number of companies that can come up with the hundreds of million of dollars in venture capital required for that long term work. And, because they are putting up their own money for the work, they are generally loathe to share it, so the collaborative effect is mostly nullified. Government research is done for the public good, so is generally available to any and all interested people. Once viable, the government can make back money via licensing fees and patent rights and such.

The Department of Energy needs to live up to its name and quit being the Department of Petroleum. They need to start working on or funding all the research that is needed to provide the alternatives to oil. The only way to break the dependence on oil as the primary fuel for the economy is to bring about the alternatives.

I will grant a couple of the objections already noted:
1) Petroleum will still be needed. Electricity does not have the power density needed to make airplanes, trains, etc. feasible (yet). But, we need to stop putting 40 % of the petroleum used in this country into cars which can run efficiently on electricity.
2) The grant system that the government uses to dole out research dollars is antiquated and inefficient (at best), but what is the alternative? Someone has to be the gatekeeper for those dollars so they don't get wasted, but that someone has to be apolitical and versed enough in the subject matter to hand the dollars out wisely.
 
 
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
Wow this weeks post isn't even humorous. It's like a college project. I think, if you do something that is fantastic enough, that you solve the energy crisis, you probably should get your face burnt onto the surface of the moon.

Or added to the Rushmore visages; that's probably more likely.

No one ever really was remembered for discovering oil, or plastic, or any of it's fantastic properties. Not to the general pubic. I think if someone were to create some new energy form that was not harmful in any way, I think they would deserve to be remembered. It would have to be something pretty notable, like an everyday coin, or something similar. Maybe, they could be guaranteed recreation perpetually, forever & ever, when cloning finally becomes mainstream. Just implant a flash chip with the previous clone's info on it, into the new person. Of course we probably need some pretty cool computer-human interfacing at this point.

Think of Lincoln for a second. For some reason, everyone knows who he is. He did some great stuff, sure, but there are scientists out there, people out there, that have done far greater things than him. How about the guy that invented TV? What's his name? One of his devices sits in every home in America, possibly most of the world. No one knows who he is. He changed the way that information was spread to the world. the main reason Lincoln is remember is because he's on every penny. And probably taught in U.S. schools till kids ears bleed.

So, through my ramblng, I guess the person would need to be placed on a coin, and taught from Kindergarten to Grade twelve.

Or have his face burnt on the moon.
 
 
-8 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
Hey Scott. Last night I had a dream that you and me were at the house I moved out of when I was 8 years old and you made me a sandwich, then drew me a picture of Dogbert. Good times! Thanks for the sandwich!
 
 
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
Easy. Pour overfunded energy money into Canada, and then wait for something to happen. We can save you if you give us money.
 
 
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
Technological innovation isn't going to happen without advances in basic science, and the vast majority of basic science is funded by the government. I don't recall exactly how much, but something like 80% in the US? So in the short term the government might not do much, but in the long term it does a lot.
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
The president could pass a bill into law regaurding drilling for oil in Anwar, in Texas, and elsewhere too. You see, oil is abiotic in origin meaning that there is plenty of it and if we drill deeper into the Ocean there is going to be a much higher success ratio for oil drilling. Anything that helps out our economy of course. However, I am opposed to the picken's plan, pickens needs to fund his Texas wind farm by himself dammit, and stop asking for federal tax dollars. It's just that simple though, venture capitalism is what we do best in America, whereas government funded ventures is what communists do best. Some inventor stands to make huge profits in the alternative energy sector, but it better be at their own risk though and not at Uncle Sam's. If Uncle Sam gave grants to every alternative energy program, it would go bankrupt, it's just that risky and people like taking risks when it's federal money instead of their own.
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
The only thing I can think is that the government may need to step in to help with setting up distrubution of alternate energy sources. The vehicle GAS distribution makes very small margines, making it that much more difficult for alterante energy to get a foothold. GAS Stations and the like have been years in the making. Do we really want to wait decades to see alterante sources become wide spread?
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
You are right. The government needs to stay out of the way
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
You are right. The government needs to stay out of the way
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
As a person who works in research, I am not sure that standard market forces are enough if the technology needed will require long term research to make it viable. If the "new" technology has not been invented yet ... like harnessing big bang cosmic background radiation!!! (joking)

While solar/wind/nuclear could solve many of our energy needs currently satisfied by oil, I still don't see a viable replacement for jet fuel. The energy produced per pound of fuel is a serious problem ... and no, nuclear powered airplanes are not a viable solution. The solar planes demonstrated so far are not viable because they are very, very, very slow.
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
Scott, for all your mention your economics background it is surprising that you wouldn't mention the cartel that controls oil production.

If the current cost of oil was being driven by the costs of production and the natural limits of supply and demand then you could expect a market solution. But because the production is artificial controlled by a cartel they have the ability to kill investment in competitive alternatives any time they like by lowering the price, and this is an ability they have used in the past. This lack of stability in oil prices has been, and remains, a major disincentive for investment in alternatives.

There are two steps the government could take to encourage a "market" solution:

1. subsidize alternatives, or
2. have a "price support" tax for oil, where the price of oil is artificial maintained at a minimum, for example $50/barrel.

I prefer the second alternative because it has the least interference by the government in choosing between alternatives and gives the maximum incentive to the market to find a solution.
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2008
Take vitamin B12

Drink lots of coffee

Eat lots of sugar
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
Every alternative solution to generate electricity is an academic point. We have an electricity source, nuclear, which will be multiple times cheaper than any alternative probably ever will be (3 cents/kwh vs. currently 25 cents/kwh for both solar and wind power produced(not capacity)), unless hot and cold fusion power sources are developed. I wish even one person would give me a GOOD reason that the government doesn't just cut the red tape and allow as many of these plants to be built as we need. There is no danger in a modern reactor design, there is 0 risk of meltdown, release, and would be impossible to attack through terrorism due to their thick concrete blast walls. The spent nuclear fuel can be recycled many times over, and afterwards stored in a facility like Yucca Mountain. Then when hydrogen fuel cells advance, all you need is water and electricity to produce all the fuel our cars will need. We'll be set permanently, without any government research expense. And if in 100 years if someone figures out a cheaper way, we'll do that.
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
If the solution to every problem is to 'tax the hell out of companies that are turning too much profit'? What is the incentive to produce a viable (i.e. profitable) solution???
 
 
Sep 2, 2008
The best the government can do is 'stay out of the way'.

That's why I have to laugh when I hear a politician say something along the lines of, 'I will create x-number of new jobs'. And why I REALLY have to laugh when I hear them say they will do it by, 'increasing taxes on corporations' or 'increasing control over corporations (they're evil you know)'. All that candidate is going to do is drive more jobs to foreign countries and then where will our economy be?

 
 
 
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