Thursday, September 25, 2008

Here Comes the Sun

An intelligent, realistic debate about national security/terrorism and our economy must include a discussion of energy policy and our dependence on foreign oil. Let's see how much play energy policy gets on Friday night (if there's a debate at all). (update: not much play at all, but lots of nonsense)

So far, the campaign energy debate has largely focused on whether and how much to drill. Not much mention of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems or prioritizing alternative energy sources. "Drill, baby, Drill!" has become a political rallying cry. Drilling has, bizarrely if predictably, assumed new metaphorical meanings and become a stake in the partisan and cultural divides. New drilling is, at most, a peripheral consideration in our larger energy policy. It is a typical political contrivance and a short-sighted, irresponsible distraction when very real issues are at stake. A comprehensive energy policy should be central in this campaign, it is paramount for national security and the economy.

Oil, the great fuel of industry, has become an enemy of modernity. Oil money has long shielded many countries from the progressive, democratizing effects of new industry and technology. It has allowed autocracy and fostered zealotry.

Alternative energy has unlimited economic potential, it may well be the next tech boom:
The market for energy is huge. At present, the world’s population consumes about 15 terawatts of power. (A terawatt is 1,000 gigawatts, and a gigawatt is the capacity of the largest sort of coal-fired power station.) That translates into a business worth $6 trillion a year—about a tenth of the world’s economic output—according to John Doerr, a venture capitalist who is heavily involved in the industry. And by 2050, power consumption is likely to have risen to 30 terawatts.
The solution to our energy crisis will undoubtedly be gradual and manifold. Personally, I'm betting on the sun as a big part of the answer. Solar cells continue to become more cheap and efficient and more viable on a large scale. Solar is increasingly competitive with fossil fuels.

In general, the speed of technological advance is underestimated. With an honest, aggressive energy policy, we could be off oil much sooner than people think.

(photo credit: Suniva.com)