A free-market energy blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Energy Sustainability

On Sustainable Energy (Part I)

The market order encompasses the concept of sustainability, which has been defined (Brundtland Report) as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[1]

In a sustainable energy market, the quantity, quality, and utility of energy improve over time. Sustainable energy becomes more available, affordable, usable, and reliable. Energy consumers do not borrow from the future; they subsidize their progeny by enabling the expansion of technology and upgraded infrastructure.

The catchphrase sustainable energy encompasses the goals of security and reliability, energy availability, and environmental progress. Critics of industrial modernism censure fossil fuels, beginning with coal and continuing with oil. Relatively cleaner-burning natural gas is preferred of the three, but sometimes only as the transition fuel to an envisioned post-hydrocarbon economy.

Market failure is alleged where private benefits from producing and using carbon-based energies create net social costs (more costs than benefits). It is the invisible hand in reverse, whereby self-interested action creates a so-called negative externality. But is this the case?

Statistics support the conclusion of increasing energy sustainability, not its opposite, whether measured in terms of air emissions or resource development.[2] Regarding the latter, the natural science concept of mineral fixity—and thus depletion with every extraction—is contradicted by the business and social science reality of replenished supply and net reserve additions from entrepreneurship, or in this case, resourceship. [Read more →]

January 9, 2012   5 Comments

Fifteen Bad Things with Windpower–and Three Reasons Why

[Note: This article has been updated to Twenty Bad Things about Windpower — go here.]

Trying to pin down the arguments of wind promoters is a bit like trying to grab a greased balloon. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it squirts away. Let’s take a quick highlight review of how things have evolved.

1 – Wind energy was abandoned well over a hundred years ago, as it was totally inconsistent with our burgeoning more modern needs of power, even in the late 1800s. When we throw the switch, we expect that the lights will go on — 100% of the time. It’s not possible for wind energy, by itself, to ever do this, which is one of the main reasons it was relegated to the dust bin of antiquated technologies (along with such other inadequate sources like horse power).

2 – Fast forward to several years ago. With politicians being convinced by lobbyists that Anthropological Global Warming (AGW) was an imminent threat, a campaign was begun to favor all things that would purportedly reduce CO2. Wind energy was thus resurrected, as its marketers pushed the fact that wind turbines did not produce CO2 in their generation of electricity.

3 – Of course, just that by itself is not significant, so the original wind development lobbyists then made the case for a quantum leap: that by adding wind turbines to the grid we could significantly reduce CO2 from fossil fuel electrical sources (especially coal). This argument became the basis for many states’ implementing a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) — which mandated that their utilities use an increased amount of wind energy.

4 – Why was a mandate necessary? Simply because the real world reality of integrating wind energy made it a very expensive option. As such, no utility company would likely do this on their own. They had to be forced to. [Read more →]

September 20, 2010   40 Comments

Green Jobs: The Last Redoubt (invoking military images of us-versus-them)

Over the past few weeks, with more dents accumulating in the armor of warmism, a new battle line is taking shape: ” The U.S. economy is ill, energy is important, green jobs will save us, promote green jobs, give us your money.”  Or something like that.

In fact, the shock troops of the green job army are now promoting the phrase “global weirding” to replacing global warming.  There is also terminological retreat on the green jobs side. You see green tech is not actually going to do much positive for the economy, you should think of it rather as a form of “insurance,” against global weirding, I suppose.

As we limp into our second year of crony capitalism under Barack Obama, with small businesses loath to risk their funds in what is increasingly a rigged crapshoot, and the importance of having friends in Washington all the more vital, government-backed green jobs appear to many as the only way out.

Indeed, as the skirmish lines have formed up the green jobs proponents have tried to imbue the subject with the same kind of political insulation that AGW theory previously enjoyed.  Criticizing money spent on green jobs is tantamount to rooting for America to fail.  Don’t believe me, here’s Tom Friedman of the New York Times, chief cheerleader for government-backed (coerced?) green technology promotion quoting Joe Romm approvingly: “China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want,” And then there’s Tom Friedman’s approach to international economic competition: “Mr. Wen, I just have one thing to say to you: We are going all in on clean tech. I’m going home and I’m going to get through the U.S. Senate a cap-and-trade bill, a carbon price, a carbon tax, whatever it is that will trigger massive scale investment in clean tech in America. And please take this message back to China: We will bury you. We are going to bury you in clean tech.”

This will be the first trade war in history over insurance. [Read more →]

February 19, 2010   6 Comments

Energy Malthusianism in the Sweep of History (and Rockefeller, Insull, and Lay)

[This excerpt from Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy prefaces a five-chapter review of energy Malthusianism from the time of Thomas Robert Malthus in the late 18th century through the Julian Simon/Paul Ehrlich debate of the late 20th century.]

“Here is a planet, whirling in sunlit space,” reads the opening of Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom: Man’s Struggle against Authority, penned during the dark days of World War II. “The planet is energy,” she continues. “Every apparent substance composing it is energy. The envelope of gases surrounding it is energy. Energy pours forth from the sun upon this air and earth.”

Energy is pervasive and liberating. It moves people, makes things, and provides incalculable services. It vanquishes darkness, literally and figuratively. “Since early men ignited the first fires in caves,” it has been noted, “the unleashing of energy for light, heat, cooking, and every human need has been the essence and symbol of what it is to be human.” 

In economic terms, energy is the resource of resources, the master resource. Energy transforms mineral and natural resources from their raw form into consumable goods. Energy must be expended to create more energy and to refine energy into more usable forms. Thus, energy can be considered the fourth factor of production, in addition to the textbook triad of land, labor, and capital.

In business terms, energy has been and will likely always be the world’s biggest enterprise. The energy sector has spawned some of history’s great entrepreneurs. John D. Rockefeller shaped the American and world oil industry more than a century ago. Mr. Petroleum was one of the greatest business doers in U.S. and world history, if not the greatest.

Second to Rockefeller in the history of the U.S. energy industry is Mr. Electricity: Samuel Insull. An émigré who teamed with Thomas Edison to build the company that emerged as General Electric, Insull ventured on his own and built America’s largest gas and electricity entity. But his fortunes spectacularly reversed in the early 1930s. The dramatic rise and fall of the father of the modern electricity industry, “the Babe Ruth, the Jack Dempsey, the Red Grange of the business world,” is still the subject of contemporary books and articles.

In the 1980s and 1990s, another figure cut a unique path in the energy sector: Mr. Natural Gas, Kenneth L. Lay. He made a case for methane as the economic and environmental answer to America’s energy challenges and positioned Enron as the world’s first natural gas major. Lay’s star power put him in a league with the biggest names of the industry at the time, such as Lee Raymond of ExxonMobil and John Browne of BP. In early 2001, Paul Portney, president of Resources for the Future, declared, “In his role as chairman of Enron Corp., Ken Lay has almost singlehandedly made the world rethink what it means to be a modern energy company.” [Read more →]

September 12, 2009   7 Comments