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Dance with the energy devil

By R. Paul Williamson

Dance with the energy devil
The use and reliance on finite fuels and associated technologies should be gradually decreased.

The ups and downs of local, regional and global economies might give some false hope that our dance with the energy devil will somehow "normalize" and we can continue increasing our energy consumption. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. No one knows how much longer we can be lured by the devil's promises, but simple logic dictates that if all the world's economy is based on finite energy resources (irrespective of the collateral impacts) commodity scarcity will ensue, costs will continue to escalate and finite energy resources will become extinct.

In my book "Winning the Energy Wars, A Sustainable Energy Plan for America's Future," my contention is that we are way overdue for a logical, sequential and implementable energy plan that transitions us from finite to infinite energy resources. Up to this point in time, energy planning has taken on the form of "knee-jerk" decision making leaving our destiny at the feet of whatever technology or resources is immediately available at the seemingly lowest price. The very minuscule advances that we have made toward achieving a sustainable energy future appear only as small blips on the escalating demand curve for energy.

Constructing an energy plan is a daunting task but from a problem solving standpoint it should be no harder than planning for any kind of desirable outcome. We already have a foundation of knowledge:

  • We know how much energy our transportation, business and industry, residential, commercial and electric power sectors demand each year!
  • We can estimate how much our energy we will need in the future!
  • We know what the supply of energy resources is!
  • We know that if a resource is finite it will run out at some time!
  • We know that burning resources to extract their energy is inefficient and impacts our environment and health!
  • We know that our present system of energy supply is broken and cannot be sustained!
  • We know that our entire quality of life, security and economic foundations are determined by energy!
  • We know that our dependence on fluctuating energy sources has placed our future in the hands of others!

To start with, we need to ask ourselves some pretty basic questions: What is the root cause of the energy problem? And what energy resources do we have to solve the problem?

Contrary to well-meaning zealots employing a variety of scare tactics, the root cause of our energy problems is "simply" not having enough energy resources to meet the ever-increasing demand for energy. If we continue to rely on finite energy resources to produce energy in inefficient ways, as we do now, we will eventually deplete world energy supplies and be unprepared to power our children's future. It would be safe to bet that there are very few of us who seriously believe that energy demand will decrease. Therefore, it behooves us to construct an energy plan that ensures a plentiful, safe, healthy and prosperous future.

To implement an energy planning process, I suggest in my book that we first identify every energy resource then categorize them into one of four categories - "Finite," "Transitional," "Infinite," and "Exploratory." Once this identification process is complete, one can focus on each energy resource, using the SWOT method, to evaluate each energy resource's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Additionally, in this compilation of energy resources, it is essential to compute how much of each energy resource is available and how many megawatts of electricity can be generated from each source for the next 100 years. Some resources have finite quantities of energy to supply while others can be harvested annually and still others are in infinite supply.

Based on our energy survey, sequential energy production scenarios can be constructed and interfaced. It is desirable, based on their finite supply and environmental consequences, to gradually decrease the use and reliance on finite fuels and associated technologies (i.e. internal combustion engine). As this process is taking place, transitional energy resources need to be increased to compensate for diminishing finite fuel reliance. At the same time, increased development and use of infinite energy resources needs to be ramped up so that eventually the vast majority of finite and transitional resources are phased out and sustainable resources take their place.

Exploratory energy resources are an added component of the energy planning strategy. Energy supply is a zero-sum game, therefore any of the present or future exploratory resources that become viable can easily be integrated into the energy plan and supplant less efficient or less economical energy resources.

Even after we compile and plan our energy resources base, energy planning cannot take place in a vacuum. Essential change management in our agriculture, research, business, construction, architecture, housing, trade, consumption, public acceptance, education, transportation, governmental, policy and workforce sectors will need to complement redirection of our energy future.

To change the way we harvest and use energy is a monumental task, but the consequences that will befall us if we do not make massive changes will inevitably turn our dance with the devil into a catastrophic future.

Dr. R. Paul Williamson is CEO of the nonprofit Sustainable Systems of Colorado. He holds bachelors and masters degrees in education and communications and a doctorate in technology education.

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