The energy revolution is not limited to extending our liquid fuel resources. We must find a replacement for the internal combustion engine in most vehicles, we must start building power plants powered by coal, solar and wind and we must not build any new natural gas power generation plants as this is the next fossil fuel to face depletion. The following are the additional elements of a comprehensive energy policy1:
- Aggressive development of cost effective efficient fuel cells.
- Development of a hydrogen supply infrastructure.
- Continued development of improved standards for LNG unloading facilities.
- Development and implementation of standards for higher efficiency insulation systems for buildings.
- Continued development of advanced clean coal power plants.
- Incentives to promote increased use of wind power which is a proven, economical technology.
- Larger demonstrations of concentrating solar power systems.
- Continued research to develop less costly photovoltaic solar systems.
- Continued development of a new generation of safer nuclear power plants.
Fuel Cells are the only candidate that has emerged as a possible replacement for the internal combustion engine and their development must be pursued aggresively with greater incentives. It still has many hurdles to cross before it becomes commercially viable. Current prototypes are too costly, have a short lifetime and have poor efficiency.
Hydrogen Supply - The use of hydrogen to power fuel cells requires that a costly capital investment be made in production plants, a distribution system and filling stations to serve the vehicles. Current prototype filling stations use natural gas to produce hydrogen. Natural gas is has already reached its peak in some countries and eventually will not be available in sufficient supplies to serve as the primary source for hydrogen. Hydrogen can also be obtained from the syngas that is produced in advanced clean coal plants or the syngas that is produced in coal liquefaction facilities. It can also be produced from electrical dissasocitian of water which would require a huge increase of our electrical generating facilities. Some have said that thousands of nuclear power plants are the only way to provide enough power, which which would receive negative reaction from many, let alone the time to build them would be too great to allow a smooth transition to hydrogen. Sorting out how to produce the hydrogen and building the infrastructure appears to be a problem that will be difficult to resolve in a timely fashion.
LNG Unloading facilities have become controversial due to concerns about safety and environmental impact. This seems a relatively easy problem to solve with the adoption of improved standards for siting and construction. Safety concerns are lessened as hazop reviews are improved as more facilities are built and improved safety features incorporated into standards. These standards could result in the requirement that the unloading be done offshore as is being used at a new facility in Texas. This could eventually cause replacement of some existing facilities such as the one near Boston which has been under increasing scrutiny since 9/11.
Efficient Insulation is a conservation measure that that could save significant amounts of energy. Standards requiring better insulation in new buildings would reduce the consumption of natural gas and fuel oil and make the use of solar power and electrical heating less costly as the use of oil and natural gas becomes prohibitively expensive.
Clean Coal Power is a program that DOE has been developing and to a small extent implemented with standards for lower emissions on existing plants. Its full potential will only become effective when new plants are required to use the technology or existing plants are required to extensively retrofit their plants in order to meet new environmental standards. The impetus for this technology is increasing concern about the environment combined with greater demands for electrical power. As mentioned in the paragraph on hydrogen the advanced clean coal plants could also produce hydrogen which increases the overall efficiency of the plant.
Wind Power is the only renewable energy source, other than hydro, that is currently competitive with fossil fueled power generation. Huge potential for wind power exists offshore and in mountainous areas. Siting these facilities has become an issue in some areas. Some sort of standards or guidelines may help this problem. Specifically, legislating a procedure for expediting the approval of sites is required for timely implementation of wind power and other new energy related facilities.
Concentrating Solar Systems are developed to the point that they soon may be an important source of power in southwestern states. Continued or increased incentives and construction of larger demonstration plants are requirred before this important new technology can be implemented on a large scale.
Photovoltaic Solar is being used in remote areas and where incentive are in place. Solar power has almost unlimited potential, but considerable research is required to develop a new generation of solar cells that are much less costly that those available now. There is promise in some of the basic research but significant increases in support from the government will be required to move this technology along in a more expeditious manner.
Nuclear Power may be required at some time to meet our power needs in face of the decreasing availability of fossil fuels. To meet this need a new permitting procedure, as outlined in a recent report, has been developed. A new generation of standard reactors have been designed and approved by authorities using this new procedure. Two new plants using these reactors are in the early stages of design and approval. Siting remains the largest obstacle to construction and site selection for these two plants is proceeding very cautiously. These demonstration plants are needed to enable us to build more plants if and when the need arises.
1 In their report 'Ending the Stalemate', The National Comission on Energy Policy has made a list of recommended items to be included in an energy policy. Their recomendations and full text of their report are available online. You may want to compare their reccomendations and reasoning to mine.