Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alternatives Are Not Viable Yet

Talifaitasi W. Satele

I like to make a number of points in response to Mr. Herdrich’s latest guest editorial.

First, I want to restate the fact that the technology is unavailable to make alternatives economical. When I say “economical”, I mean economical on a scale that fossil fuels (like oil) now provide for.

According to the Dept. of Energy (DOE), only .8% of the electricity consumed in the U.S. was provided by wind power during 2007. To get the other 99.2% would require an overwhelming dedication of resources. We’re talking about land, thousands of wind turbines, transmission lines and new grids here, and such investments would cost a lot of money.

The other thing to consider is that cost is not the only factor in determining what prices will be charged. Cost per kilowatt hour generated by current wind technology may be 4 to 6 cents, but that’s only in service to .8% of the nation’s electricity needs.

Let’s imagine for a second that all of the world’s oil wells dried up tomorrow, and everyone has to jump on electric grids powered by wind turbines. Currently, wind power technology is so far from being sufficient to meet demand that prices per kilowatt would be astronomical in such a scenario.

It’s the same story with every other alternative out there. All together, renewable energy can only provide for a mere 7% of the nation’s energy consumption in 2007 according to the Energy Information Administration.

Second, investment cost for alternatives are still prohibitive. Let’s start with hybrid vehicles. The cost of a Civic hybrid, for example, is $3,980 more than a conventional model. To make up the cost difference, one would have to drive 86,444 miles since you would only save .045 cents a mile at $4 a gallon of gas.

I’m glad Tom Drabble can afford to invest in solar panels for his hotels, but for a lot of folks, such an investment is out of reach and unjustifiable. And all his solar panels are doing is heating his water? People need a source of energy that does far more than that.

Last but not least, the only viable alternative to oil is a cheaper substitute. The switch from whale oil to petroleum was not made out of concern for that stupid animal. It was made because oil was and still is the cheapest form of energy.

Now whoever invents that substitute is going to make a lot of money. Big Oil would be stupid to be blind-sided by such advancement and not be part of that potential market. That is why they’re working on alternatives, not because they have anyone else’s best interest at heart.

In the meantime, having that 18 billion barrels of oil from off-shore drilling is better on the market than lying in the ground despite what the U.S. Energy Information Administration assumes its impact on prices will be in its latest study.


At 4:02 PM , Blogger Talifaitasi Satele said...

David J. Herdrich responds to my letter with the following:

"Satele is incorrect. Renewable energy sources (excluding hydroelectric) already supply electricity on a scale that oil does."

"According to the Department of Energy (DOE), oil provides the U.S. with 1.6 % of its electricity while renewable energy (in the form of biomass, wind, and solar) provides the country with 2.4% of its electricity."

I couldn't find where he grabbed those statistics from on the DOE website. I linked my reference where the Energy Information Administration states that renewable energy only accounts for 7% and petroleum accounts for 40% of the nation's energy consumption in 2007.

I didn't make the effort to correct him on that. Mr. Herdrich seems to take this subject very personally.

I just hope he made an innocent mistake and didn't mean to mislead anyone.

At 2:37 PM , Blogger Stuart K. Hayashi said...

Tali, regarding this correction in your Comments section -- did you send this Comment to the paper as a letter?

At 4:43 PM , Blogger Talifaitasi Satele said...

No I didn't. Should I?

At 2:49 AM , Blogger Stuart K. Hayashi said...

Yes, you should. :-)

At 11:02 PM , Blogger Stuart K. Hayashi said...

Tali, did you send your additional comment to the paper as a letter to the editor?


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