Electricity Made Simple
By Patrick F. Cannon
The fact that everything is more complicated than I think it is has never stopped me from trying to make sense of it all. Take President Biden’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia. Despite saying during his campaign for president that they should be branded as “pariahs,” he sucked it up and went there hat in hand because they still have a lot of oil and are sworn enemies of our enemy, Iran. I’m on record as saying that individual sportsmen should shun Saudi money, but countries have different priorities and moralities, don’t they?
I don’t pretend to understand the petroleum market, but I do suspect that if everyone pumped at capacity, there would be a glut on the market and prices would fall. Shortages of oil – or rice, corn or soybeans for that matter – will have the opposite effect. We are feeling that now. Although prices have begun to slowly decrease in the great state of Illinois, regular still costs about $5.50 a gallon. We encourage the Saudis to produce more because we import about 40 percent of the oil we need, despite actually being able to produce what we need here.
Let me repeat that. We could produce all the oil we need. But what happens? When the Republicans are in power, the oil flows. When the Democrats take over, they do everything possible to stop the flow. Pipelines that are essentially finished are never used. Drilling permits are denied. Environmentalists cheer! Progressives cheer! I pay more for gasoline for my car, fuel to heat my home, and electricity to do just about everything else. It is just one more example of how ideology gets in the way of practical solutions. And, by the way, it’s becoming clear that the Supreme Court is going to force the Congress to actually legislate, not only about abortion, but the environment as well. Strangely enough, however, we have made progress despite the political backing and forthing.
In the long term, we have every reason to wean ourselves from fossil fuels; and not only to halt obvious global warming, but to improve the air we breathe. In fact, we are already doing so. In the year 2000, 85 percent of our electricity was generated from fossil fuels; last year, 61 percent. Coal’s share is now 21 percent; with natural gas at 39. In 2000, coal’s share was 51.5 percent. For the record, renewables – mainly including wind, solar and hydro – have increased to 20 percent from less than 5 percent in 2000. Nuclear produces about 19 percent of our electricity.
For the short term, we should subsidize technologies like wind and solar. As volume and costs of production decrease, as they already are, the subsidies should be phased out. This is already happening in the electric vehicle market. Although the average cost is still about $10,000 higher than gas-powered, you can get one with a range of 250 miles for about $31,000. The same thing is happening for home-installed solar panels. In fact, I think local governments should require solar systems in all new construction, including multi-family.
One barrier to increasing solar, wind (and yes, nuclear) power is the old “not in my neighborhood” movement. I seem to recall that the rich folks who summer on Martha’s Vineyard Island off the coast of Massachusetts objected to wind turbines in the waters near that exclusive enclave. Would spoil their view, they claimed. Others object to solar arrays for similar reasons. What if they had to live near a coal-fueled generating plant?
By the way, the fossil fuel folks have every incentive to find a way to eliminate carbon dioxide from their emissions. Another source with potential is hydro power, mostly produced by dams. Now at about 7 percent, it may be increasingly possible to harness river flow and tides to generate power.
Despite the claims and wishes of environmental radicals, the elimination of fossil fuel emissions is going to take decades, not years. A realistic goal? 2050? 2060? I don’t know, but the trend has already begun. In 20 years, we’ve reduced fossil fuel use by 25 percent, and the use of renewables is accelerating apace. Who’s to say that today’s 61 percent might be 20 percent by 2050 by just letting science and the market do their work? Now, if we could just get cows to stop farting, and the Chinese and Indians to do their share!
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon
4 thoughts on “Electricity Made Simple”
Good one Pat
How ya doing? Ever hear from Gerri and Mary?? Tell them I said hi next time you do talk to them for me.
Judy, Riley and MiMi *Happy Trails and **”May the Good Lord take a likin to ya” * sent from my Chromebook Duet
You took the words right out of the mouth of Chief Thunderthud (the only Indian ever to sport a mustache)!
Bernie’s Green Brigades, inspired by the urgent challenges of Princess Greta Thunderberg, assure us we can live better, cleaner lives in an economy powered by the sun, moon, wind and waves, if we only dared to do so. Otherwise, the dinosaurs will make US extinct!
Now I like celestial orbs as much as the next guy, and who am I to doubt we can harness benevolent forces of nature to sustain human society? Do the Pirahas of the Amazon fret under a cloud of existential threats? Of course not! They laugh at everything, even when a tropical rainstorm blows over their huts. They live as one with their environment and never, ever think of trying to exploit for profit.
But I can’t help but think our fossil fuel fixation is rooted in some alternate universe unbound by gravity.
Electric cars make sense in large city environments where emissions cause asthmatic children in public housing to cough and neglect their homework. Even in pastoral Mayberry people cover their roofs with solar panels to generate enough electricity to shrink their carbon footprint small enough to fit Cinderella’s glass slipper.
Lithium-ion batteries power electric cars but poison the environment, in the mining and processing and the batteries’ eventual disposal. Electric cars exceed the budgets of most but the affluent, even with generous taxpayer subsidies. At present the country’s electrical grid is stressed to capacity. What happens if 100 million people decide to recharge their cars? Darkness? Costs for a charge would surely soar. And isn’t electricity absent nuclear fuel already generated largely by natural gas and coal, f-word fuels?
No, I think we should learn from the Pirahas and laugh. The gods and ethereal spirits are capricious. They furnish bounty and good fortune but make us fear consequences. They tease us we can get more for nothing, then squirt seltzer in our faces. Maybe we can run cars on grease from fast food restaurants?
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Believe we’re already running vehicles on restaurant grease. At least we get the smell of french fries!
Science is Real (and aromatic)!