Alternative energy is great. It is the future. It’s the only future. It’s sexy. It will create lots of jobs. That all sounds wonderful. It’s almost as cheap as coal and nuclear and maybe even cheaper. It’s all true, but is it priority #1? Is it the best, the fastest, the cheapest way to solve problems most agree are real?
In July, three energy proposals were offered. The first was by T. Boone Pickens
. Thank you, Mr. Pickens. He emphasized wind turbines and natural gas automobiles to reduce the enormous $700 billion spent on imported oil every year. The second was from Al Gore
. Thank you, Al Gore. He emphasized new sources of electricity to save the climate. A third proposal came from a group of dignitaries
. Thank you, dignitaries. They suggest all solutions for the purpose of economic and national security.
The press widely covered Pickens, less so Gore, and much less the dignitaries. The almost total fascination of the press was the new forms of energy, particularly wind turbines on an industrial scale.
That’s what makes alternative energy so bad. It’s so sexy and cool that people don’t consider less sexy, less cool, but more sensible priorities.
So here are some really boring, uncool steps the government and individuals can take to make a significant difference that will save
money, energy, and the environment … quicker than just about anything else.
- Mandate residential energy efficiency, including insulated doors and windows and efficient attic fans.
- Mandate highly efficient tankless or solar thermal water heaters.
- Mandate CFL light bulbs. They last 12 times longer, use 1/4 of the electricity, and only cost 3 times more.
- Mandate recycling of aluminum cans. Each recycled can is equivalent of watching 3 hours of TV on a 32 inch LCD.
- Incentivize carpooling, video conferencing, virtual conferences, and telecommuting. Genentech's gRide program, for example, pays its employees $4 a day if they don’t drive to work; the result: 25% less cars every day.
Mandate real-time displays of MPG usage for autos. It is only $150 from Amazon, today, and improves mileage by up to 30%.
- Mandate capture of rain water from gutters. Water is equivalent to energy in many parts of the country because electric pumps need to move water to cities. The water can be used for lawns.
- Mandate extreme energy efficiency on new construction or renovations, like highly cost effective geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal water heaters, and rooftop gardens.
- Mandate meters that show precisely show how much energy is consumed for each appliance. (See related story.) Studies show that when people know what they’re consuming, they consume much less. This is not widely available now, but the technology certainly exists.
- Mandate purchase of hybrid school buses, street buses, and garbage trucks. These vehicles are not widely available yet, but they do exist and the technology is proven. They have a much greater efficiency improvement than the average family car because they make frequent stops and are used all of the time.
- Voluntarily eat a little less meat. Meat consumes more energy than other forms of food.
- Let’s teach energy education in our schools. Energy encapsulates most of the things kids learn in school, like science, math, business, reading, writing, social studies, international relations, and politics.
Someone could jump to the conclusion that these mandates will cost a lot of money. On some level that is true, but they are also fantastic investments that are better than most other investments. Some of these investments have the equivalent of 100% returns. For example, attic fans could cost $1000 to purchase and install, but they could save that same amount in the first year.
It would be smart for the government to use taxpayer funds to provide low cost loans to implement these mandates. The only reason these investments are not being made right now is because people either are too short of cash or aren’t aware of the benefits. It is hard to imagine why people would choose not to take these steps if they knew all the facts. Indeed, it is a fantastic use of taxpayer funds. It is not spending. It is an investment. It is no less of an investment than building the railroads or the national highway system.
It is interesting to note some of the things that are missing from the list. The missing items are some of the hottest and sexiest products that are discussed frequently in the news. Personal hybrid vehicles and plug in hybrids are missing because these are only great financial
investments for people who drive substantially more than the average number of miles each year. The market is already doing a good job with automobiles. These vehicles already have a 9 month waiting list and all the automakers are rushing to participate.
Another missing item is residential photovoltaic solar. At this moment certain types of solar, like concentrated solar thermal in the middle of the desert, are fantastic investments, even without subsidies. For now, only subsidized residential photovoltaic makes financial sense.
AlternativeEnergy.com advocates incentives on many kinds of alternative energy to incubate these technologies to the point that they can make financial sense. In the meantime, let’s pursue the boring, proven energy saving technologies that could make a significant, quick impact.