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Power Hardware

Mideast Turmoil and the Push For Clean Energy 314

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-time-like-the-present dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Adam Werbach writes that in July 2008 oil prices reached $147 a barrel and suddenly energy prices and alternative energy was on everyone's agenda but soon oil prices fell as the economy faltered and people moved on to the more immediate concerns of keeping their jobs and businesses alive. Now with the possibility looming of $200 a barrel oil, the US has a robust field of clean energy technologies that are slowly coming online, from thinfilm solar to fuel cells to cellulosic ethanol — unlike 2008, when it seemed like we were starting our innovation engine from a cold start. 'In the last three years, as oil prices have softened, we've seen stumbles as companies like Applied Materials pulled back from the clean energy space because of operational and market conditions,' writes Werbach. '2012 will be a rich year for equity capitalizations, giving energy entrepreneurs the capital they need to build infrastructure. Even with the draconian austerity measures that are coming into effect across the country, this is a second opportunity for energy innovation.'"
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Mideast Turmoil and the Push For Clean Energy

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  • by IHateEverybody (75727) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:17AM (#35395110) Homepage Journal

    A lot of it is due to residual fear of any kind of nuclear energy and chronic NIMBYism. Everybody wants cheap energy but no one wants a power plant anywhere near their home. Most people have no idea when thorium is or of its benefits over traditional nuclear energy. This runs into a basic human fear of change. Oil has worked for America for a hundred years and Americans have grown emotionally attached to their gas guzzlers and have rewarded oil companies with the kind of wealth and political influence that make them a force in Washington.

    Add a fundamental lack of will and rampant political cowardice and you have a formula for Chinese domination of the "green" industries of the future.

  • by quarkie68 (1018634) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:22AM (#35395126) Homepage
    I would agree with you but... I don't. The oil monopoly is supported by some large car driving populations. For most of this folk, it is really a big thing to get on the bike and/or use fuel efficient cars or rationalize the use of the car. This is why the US started considering fuel efficient cars only recently. If you compare the average GM/Ford/whatever gas guzzler they used to chunk out of their production lines (which was cheap for the average Joe to buy) to the average European car there was no comparison. Extrapolate this behavior to the growing middle class of India and China and you get the idea. Power is given to monopolies by people, it does not come by itself. In the absence of realizing the consequences, the majority of the people will use the more readily available and cheapest solution. And that I am afraid is petrol :-( . Not necessarily because they do not have the extra money to pay for an alternative. But because they are sold to the idea of horse power, acceleration, when the most they do on their motorway is 30-40 miles an hour just before the rush hour! :-)
  • by khallow (566160) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @03:24AM (#35395138)

    In our world there are innovators and there are also people that will vow to re-use existing suboptimal solutions with all their pros and cons until it is absolutely necessary to adopt something else. Unfortunately, the second type is the majority, even if it is completely obvious that the dependency of the West on the Middle East is one of its largest weaknesses. I wonder how many slaps does it take for some people to wake up from their deep oily sleep. So what's the problem? You just spelled out the optimal solution. It doesn't take six billion people to innovate a replacement for petroleum-based transportation so there's proper division of labor. And society isn't going to do better than to stick with what works, until something comes along that works better (which incidentally hasn't happened yet with transportation).

    Finally, what's wrong with giving good business to the Middle East? It helps everyone.

    It just seems to me that you haven't really compared the status quo to the alternatives. It's the traditional conceit to assume that because the present scheme has flaws, then some alternative is better. My view is that the flaws and benefits of the alternatives to our fossil fuel burning haven't been seriously evaluated.

  • by khallow (566160) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @04:09AM (#35395280)

    1. The solution isn't more energy usage. The solution is less energy usage, period.

    Energy is cheap and there really isn't that much to be gained from energy conservation. Else we would be doing it already.

    2. This is because USA still stupidly has an unregulated economy that does whatever it wants.

    There are two obvious errors. First, the US economy is far from unregulated. Second, what is left that needs to be regulated? Virtually everything that people claim needs to be regulated is already regulated.

    Do you know what the purpose of a "five year plan" is? Emergency toilet paper. The people implementing the plan don't have a clue. They can't make serious decisions. Second, do you know what's far better than "scientific principles" for running an economy? Markets.

    Third, "scientific principles" are a case of the "appeal to authority" fallacy. Please recall that macroeconomics is unusually resistant to scientific principles precisely because of the remarkable difficulty of falsifying any hypotheses about it.

    Just imagine if USA had similar policies, and could actually implement them. Ownership of General Motors to advance state economic policies was a good start, but needs to expand to more sectors of the US economy. Letting the market decide is, frankly, irresponsible and a proven recipe for disaster, time and time again. Just look at history.

    The US merely had to let GM go through bankruptcy court. No action required. The Obama administration screwed that up by rescuing it at the expense of everyone but the unions, and mocking the laws of the land.

    It'll be a long time before I buy another GM or Chrysler (or for that matter any banking product from one of the "too big to fail" banks) product and I know that's going to be the case for a lot of other people too. We don't like thieves.

  • by Zoxed (676559) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @04:39AM (#35395392) Homepage

    > Everybody wants cheap energy
    Wrong: people want, for example, warm houses. Whether that comes from pumping energy in, or insulating it to prevent energy leaving it is irrelevance. You can invest in energy saving, and not need cheap energy.

  • by iserlohn (49556) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @05:05AM (#35395484) Homepage

    Finally, what's wrong with giving good business to the Middle East? It helps everyone.

    That is a very naive view of trade. Take for example the plight of the citizens of Nauru. Although different in scale, it parallels the situation we have in the Middle East.

    The Republic of Nauru is a small island nation in the Pacific which had an economy that was based almost solely on phosphate mining which was plentiful once, but not any more. In the beginning, most of the money generate from this industry went to the Australian interests who were exploiting the mines, then gradually the islanders wised up and negotiated a better deal. This money was saved up in a trust fund, but ultimately corruption set in and the trust fund lost most of its value. At the same time, mining had stopped on the island as the phosphate ran out. Now the unemployment rate is near 90% the government failed in implementing reforms to encourage a diverse economy and the establishment of alternative industries.

    Trade is not always good, and in some case (such as what's happening in the middle east), it is very exploitive to the people of the lands on which we are sucking the resources from. Many times, it only benefits a few at the top and the money never trickles down to the working population. That frequently causes political instability as the leaders has the resources from the mineral or oil wealth to establish an authoritarian regime. It often causes over-dependency on the export of the natural resources within the state. Once the resources are depleted, what results is a failed state.

  • Oil is too cheap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @05:11AM (#35395500)

    Not too expensive. It's too cheap!

    You will not see any investment in alternative energies or more efficient engines as long as it's cheaper to just use more oil. Do you think people would care about getting 10 or 30 miles to the gallon if we still had the gas prices of the 70s? Especially if that 10 mpg car would cost quite a bit more since more R&D is necessary? Efficiency is never free, someone has to come up with a way to save fuel.

    And as much as it will hurt, only with higher prices for gas other, more expensive, forms of energy will become popular. Electric and H2 cars will instantly be a hit when gas prices double.

    And also, let's not forget that local production becomes quite a bit more interesting if the transport of crap from China gets more expensive...

  • by quarkie68 (1018634) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @05:40AM (#35395614) Homepage
    There is nothing wrong with doing business in the middle east. What is wrong is to rely so much on the Middle East. This creates contention and undesirable situations, especially for Middle East folk. The very fact that most of them export their resources to oil feed the rest of the world, when very little money returns to them is indicative of most of the geopolitical problems that rose, are rising and will rise in the area.

    Oil is not the only example. Manufacturing and outsourcing is another. If only 20% of the Asian manufacturers of integrated circuit/assembly lines decided to close tomorrow for whatever reason, the implications for the US and the rest of the electronic consumer's world would be at least worrying and at most catastrophic for the market.

    I believe this is a general trend of globalization, which is mainly driven by us, because we want the cheapest and then someone has to produce that cheapest product by pushing outsourcing to the point where we rely on few places. Personally, if I knew that a product is REALLY only made in the US/UK/Europe etc, I would buy it, even if it was more expensive. Not because I dislike Asia or whatever distant part of the world, but because I want with my behavior to enforce resilience, the very opposite of absolute reliance.
    Do you really think that the world has resilience today in terms of energy?
  • by rrohbeck (944847) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @06:29AM (#35395806)

    Price volatility is the problem. Right now the price is high but after the next recession when the price drops again many new projects will be canceled again because they're not profitable. Exactly that happened in 2009.
    There needs to be a tax that props up the price to some minimum level.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @06:52AM (#35395906) Homepage

    Exactly : currently moving away from oil is prevented, not by of evil corporations conspiring against meddling kids, not (much) by middle eastern theocratic lunatic dictators, not even by the American version of same.

    It's prevented by actual, honest-to-God, technical issues.

    One thing you never hear greens suggest is ... fixing the problems. It's just so much easier to declare a problem solved and accuse everyone of conspiracies. To depict yourself the victim of whatever is the unpopular enemy "du jour" (is it still BP these days ?). As to whether it gets anyone anywhere ... But where's the fun for "green" parties saying the obvious : we're waiting for decent (= cheap + efficient) energy storage technology. Let's please not waste money or resources on actually becoming green until we ... know HOW. No, not even on co2 reduction (because we won't get it down until we have an actual alternative. Moving co2 production to china does exactly zilch for the environment, except paying for Al Gore's army of cronies and fleet of 30 gallons-a-mile cars)

    But wasting taxpayer's money on fool's errands, which then proceed to fail, and then blame the, oh, local bank that demands it's dividends. Or a president. Or congress. Or an oil company that fucked up an installation. Or ... that's like fighting the man, man ! That's so cool.

  • by tmosley (996283) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @09:43AM (#35396806)
    Keep up with the technology. Thorium produces short lived (10-15 years) waste that can be stored on site, and, in fact, can and HAS been designed to be 100% safe (pebble bed reactors, anyone?), where they physically CAN'T melt down.

    You SAY that solar thermal doesn't produce a lot of waste, but you have clearly never been to a smelting operation, nor have you considered the energy input it takes to produce the hundreds of thousands of miles of tubing and mirrors that would have to be purpose made for such plants, or the environmental effect they would have on the NOT lifeless deserts you people want to destroy with them.

    Further, you can't use WATER to store the energy--you can barely store heat in water. How are you planning to heat water to a boil using the energy stored in water? If you want it to produce energy overnight you have to use molten sodium. There's an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. You are talking about distributing little pockets of 10,000 degree heat all around the place, rathe than having a few,centralized, large, easily controlled pockets of 3,000 degree heat that won't melt much more than ice, certainly not steel and concrete.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday March 06, 2011 @10:24AM (#35397122)

    It's hardly a recession that creates cheap oil. If oil is cheap in a recession, it only means that there's enough stockpiled that oil sellers can open the flow when they need money.

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