Thursday, August 25, 2005

Solving The Energy Crisis... Really!

I see that the Bush Administration has finally decided to modify the way CAFE (corporate average fuel economy--the way car manufacturers' average gas mileage for their fleets is computed) standards are measured. The major change is to move SUVs and light trucks (pickup trucks) from the exempt 'truck' category into the 'passenger cars' category. The goal is to try and force car manufacturers to make lighter, more efficient SUVs and trucks with better fuel economy.

What the NHTSA seems to have forgotten is why the popularity of SUVs rose in the first place. In the late '70s, SUVs were available (the IH Scout II, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy Suburban, full-size Ford Bronco) but were generally sold to special purpose users, i.e., large families, rural residents who lived in communities with bad roads or bad weather, trailer pullers. The station wagon was the vehicle of choice for the average American family with children. The Carter Administration changed that, when they enacted CAFE regulations, and these regulations largely doomed the station wagon. Corresponding with these regulations were the increasing requirements for child safety seats, which require more 'hip room' than the average adult occupies. The American car-buying public is inherently rational, and the disappearance of the station wagon forced many of them into buying SUVs. This trend was noticed by the Big 3 and, with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan mini-van and the Jeep Cherokee SUV the market was born. It didn't hurt (the car manufacturers) that SUV and light truck sales weren't counted against the CAFE averages.

Here we are, twenty years after the introduction of the mini-van. What will happen if American auto manufacturers are restricted from making enough SUVs to satisfy customer demand? Well, car buyers will buy SUVs from foreign manufacturers. Used SUVs will rise in price. And people will keep their SUVs longer, and keep them running longer. Altogether, not what the rule-changers have in mind, and a course of action that will actually result in a decrease in average fuel economy (older vehicles invariably are less efficient as their drivetrain ages and deteriorates).

Instead of all of this useless symbolism, why not do something that will make a difference? That will result in a decrease of at least 10% of the petroleum used by this country? That will make the environment cleaner? And, that will require absolutely no reduction in energy consumption by American businesses and consumers? I know... you're sold already... or if not, you should be.

First, some facts about US energy consumption:

• Approximately 2% of the electricity consumed in this country is generated using petroleum not including natural gas

• Because of inherent generation inefficiencies, it takes three times the amount of energy as measured in BTUs to be consumed as is generated, e.g., one BTU of electricity requires the expenditure of three BTUs of petroleum with two BTUs wasted in heat and friction losses

• Approximately 45% of the total petroleum consumed in this country is used for gasoline production and use in automobile transportation

These facts indicate that if we can generate an extra 2% of our electricity via other means we can eliminate the use of petroleum for electrical generation, and any extra generation will reduce the usage of natural gas. They also indicate that using another energy source for automotive transportation besides petroleum (electricity, hydrogen) that is itself not a byproduct of petroleum will, again, reduce our oil consumption.

The secret to petroleum independence is alternate means of generating electricity. After all, hydrogen is created using electricity. And, solar-generated electricity (by the use of solar panels) is among the cheapest forms of electricity; the entire cost consists of the cost of the panels and ancillary hardware, and there is no operating cost. So, what we have to do is to increase the amount of solar electrical generation.

Here's how:

• Change building codes to require each new residential and commercial construction to include enough solar or wind generation capability to provide 10% of the anticipated daily building consumption

• Give corporate and individual taxpayers a tax credit for US-manufacturered solar or wind generation equipment used to provide up to 10% of their daily energy consumption (US-manufactured means the solar panel must be made entirely in the US, ancillary gear must be manufacturered here in the US and use US-made components if available)

• Require utilities to provide net metering so consumers can sell their generated electricity back to the utilities, thus reducing the amount of electricity utilities have to generate especially during peak times (daytime) while lowering consumers' electricity costs

• Give corporate and individual taxpayers a tax credit for purchasing vehicles that use renewable energy sources (electric vehicles) or for using non-petroleum fuel sources (electricity, biodiesel, ethanol)

• Require public transport to use either electricity, biodiesel, ethanol, or LPG as fuel, and prohibit the use of any other fuel (gas, diesel)

• Let drivers of electrical vehicle get free public parking and use of HOV lanes regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle

• Allow the sale of biodiesel to consumers and exempt it from any fuel-related tax (sales tax only)

• Open up ANWR for drilling and exploration because any oil we get domestically reduces our trade deficit and keeps US dollars in the US instead of sending them to the Middle East

These changes would result in automakers building SUVs with small, powerful, yet efficient turbodiesels, as well as producing more electric and hybrid vehicles. They would also stimulate the public to buy these vehicles. The onsite generation requirement would result in more efficient structures that also generated part of the electricity they consume.

All of these changes would be much less disruptive to the American economy (the tax credit for US-manufactured energy equipment would greatly stimulate production and lower costs due to increased economies of scale), and would knock back our usage of petroleum. If only the business/residential energy generation requirement were passed in California, their electricity crisis would be over (max consumption is during the day, when the sun shines). Giving people incentives to purchase new, more energy-efficient and eco-friendly vehicles that still met their needs will also help, and it will help stimulate the economy. If all of these changes were adopted nationwide, in a decade or so our petroleum energy consumption would probably drop by 25% per capita, which would make a big difference.

Well, there's my plan for energy independence. What do you think?

1 comment:

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All Blessings,Alternate Energy Sources