Energy Efficiency and Natural Gas: A Viable Solution
Dec 17, 2009 | 610 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Art Goodtimes commentary, "Yes We Can Go It Alone on Wind, Sun and Water Without Coal or Nuclear," while a noble notion, really does a disservice to the efforts that will be required to get to that goal. The article in Scientific American was hardly "real science," but rather just a catchy headline intended to sell magazines. The premise that to totally transform our energy sources and infrastructure by 2030 is doable, that it is only a political problem, is not only wildly unpragmatic and unrealistic, but also gives the individual a scapegoat for abdicating any personal responsibility to take action on what we could do economically now to improve our energy predicament, and reduce global warming. The basket of solutions suggested in the article are all at such a massive scale that individual action becomes mute. I won't try to elaborate in detail what I find to be all of the specific shortcomings of the article, but instead focus briefly on efficiency and natural gas, two areas where individual action can (or hopefully will be able to soon) make a significant difference now.

For starters we need to work with what have have now. You can't totally rebuild our energy infrastructure and energy consuming items in twenty years, we don't have the financial and material resources to do so. The embodied energy in our infrastructure, buildings, and vehicles is enormous. My time with Amory and Hunter Lovins in the early 1980s taught me that increasing energy efficiency is much cheaper and quicker than creating new energy sources and infrastructure. If you are not spending money making yourself more energy efficient before installing solar collectors and windmills, then you are misallocating financial and material resources. As an example, I looked at installing photovoltaic collectors on the roof of my office, in part to save money and in part to say my office is solar powered. After undertaking an energy audit however (using a groovy electricity consumption analyzer that you can check out at our library), I had to admit that I was being disingenuous by installing solar collectors if I was not making efficiency improvements first. Efficiency does not have the cache that solar collectors do, but it is the right thing to do first for moral and financial reasons.

Transportation fuels are the number one problem that we are facing as a country now, and likely our community in the very near future. As the most recent headline in the Watch suggests, our community depends mostly on getting visitors here. The reality of peak oil is going to make that goal more and more of a challenge. If you leave it to what the Scientific American article suggests, that is to replace all of our vehicles to hydrogen and electric power, our society will be bankrupt long before then and the transition will not happen, at least not on a scale that society as a whole can enjoy, and not at a rate that our community will need to sustain itself in the mean time. What we need is an intermediate step, in this case, natural gas. Natural gas is plentiful in the U.S., inexpensive relative to oil (the fuel it would replace), and has much of the pipeline infrastructure already in place. Plus it burns much cleaner than gasoline thus reducing global warming gases and particulates. In addition, existing gasoline vehicles can be cheaply modified to burn both gasoline and natural gas (bifuel vehicles), so you don't need to go purchase a new car (and wastefully ditch your existing one), nor wait for the fueling stations to be ubiquitous nationwide to convert your vehicle.

Currently in Congress the bi-partisan Natural Gas Act of 2009 (HR. 1835, S. 1408) is working its way through congressional committees and has a good chance of getting passed. This bill will greatly increase tax credits for the construction of compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, allows state and local government to float bonds for fleet and compressed natural gas (CNG) infrastructure improvements, it will increase incentives for manufacturers to sell CNG vehicles they currently sell overseas in the U.S., and very importantly it would provide a 50 percent tax credit for retrofitting existing vehicles to be bifuel.

Arguably this legislation will do more to improve our energy independence and national security, reduce green house gases, reduce the trade and budget deficit, and create jobs than any legislation to date in my lifetime. Natural gas is far from perfect, but it's an immediate must do interim solution now for replacing oil use in our society. Utah is at the forefront of supporting this technology at the state level legislatively, and has the cheapest fuel prices ($.93) in the nation for CNG, about half the price of energy equivalent gasoline prices, and our state needs to get on the bandwagon as well.

Let your Congressperson know you support this legislation (Congressman Salazar is a cosponsor to HR 1835, and Senator Mark Udall is a cosponsor to S.1408), and ask your state legislator to support this technology as well at the state level. I'd also like to see our local governments modify their vehicle fleets and do what they can to encourage a local CNG fueling station. Granted this federal legislation is a political act, but it will encourage construction of fueling stations and create economic incentives for individuals to affordably convert their existing automobiles. As the old saying goes, if your not part of the solution, your part of the problem.

Jack Wesson
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