Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Whose energy policy platform is this?

Think fast:  can you tell whose energy policy platform this is?

Find more energy here in America and use less of it.  Finding more doesn't just mean oil and gas.  We have to make better use of coal.  We have to build and operate more nuclear plants.  We have to produce more energy from oil shale.  We have to find more ways to use solar energy and more ways to make synthetic fuels, too.

But just finding more energy won't do the job unless we also use a lot less.

Self-sufficiency was once a longstanding American virtue.  And one that conservation can again help establish.  Driving less and putting insulation in the attic are powerful moves in the right direction.

Using less also means rethinking how we build and use our homes, schools, factories, office buildings, appliances and automobiles.  We have to keep in mind that conservation means consuming less energy and using the energy we consume more efficiently.

Conservation must become our new standard of quality.

Did you guess yet?

Well, you're wrong.

Perhaps you guessed (correctly) that this statement did not come from a politician.  It certainly wouldn't come from pretty much any Democrat or other environmentalist, given its mentions of oil, gas, coal, oil shale, etc.  And while I, a Republican with a few libertarian leanings, do like the idea of conservation, I doubt it would make for a good political Republican platform.  ("The government's trying to reduce our standard of living!")  No, conservation would have to be an individual effort and choice, not a one-size-fits-all political platform.

What you may not have guessed is that the paragraphs above were written three decades ago.  They appeared in a booklet that, I would guess, a great number of people saw, but very few read.  And what book was that?  Why, Shell Answer Book #25, The Energy Independence Book.

(The Energy Independence Book, ©1981 Shell Oil Company, used under Fair Use)

You remember these books, right?  They were inserted into a lot of pretty popular magazines every so often between 1976 and 1982, and they were given away at Shell stations at the time as well.

This particular book was written by a Dr. Sheldon Lambert, who, at the time of writing, was Shell's Manager of Energy Planning and Economics.  In plain English, that means he thought about the future of energy use a heck of a lot more than pretty much anyone in politics does now.  And that, to me, means that one can look to develop traditional energy sources while at the same time looking toward nuclear energy, as well as conservation.  All can be good.

But Snowed, nuclear will never work...look at Fukushima!  Okay, first of all, Fukushima was 40 years old.  One would hope there have been some advances in technology since then.  Fukushima was also plagued by falsified safety records, according to our friends at Wikipedia.*  But, mostly, think about the timing of this book.  It was released in 1981.  What had happened not long before?  Why, the incident at Three Mile Island*, of course.  That led to a lot of people souring on nuclear as a potential source of energy.  But obviously Dr. Lambert still thought that it was a good idea fairly soon after the incident, or he wouldn't have mentioned it.

With all that said, I will take exception to his calling for more solar power.  What is needed before much more solar panel construction occurs is some sort of storage system for solar energy.  Otherwise, as I understand it, there has to be a backup power generation plant, usually natural gas fired, in place as well.  That seems a little silly.

But all in all, this appears to be the comprehensive energy policy that this country needs.  Whether we will actually ever achieve it is just as questionable today as it was thirty years ago.

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*Information obtained from Wikipedia is always subject to change and should therefore be taken with the customary grain of salt.