Energy Policy and Transitions

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I just started reading the book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future by Michael Levi. From what I gather so far, he recommends that the US not focus on the “next” energy source with an eye toward transitioning from oil and gas to wind and solar energy. Rather, from his perspective an “all in” strategy is the best way forward, meaning that both new energy sources and fossil fuels be pursued simultaneously and leveraged in a way that helps the country move toward energy independence. This means developing new energy sources while seeking ways to make fossil fuels cleaner and more efficient. I’m not sure I agree with everything in the book so far, but it has me thinking about what his recommendations might mean for US energy policy.

Historically, energy policy has presented a challenge due to the artificial fluctuations in energy prices, often tied to unrest in the Middle East or the manipulation of pricing by OPEC. We have seen this play out again in recent weeks. A report published in early September found that the “primary drivers of higher crude oil prices over the past five weeks included an uptick in unplanned crude oil production outages and increased tensions in the Middle East.” As the US weighs a military intervention in Syria, energy prices appear, once again, to be in jeopardy. Most US citizens agree that moving away from dependence on oil from the Middle East is in our best interest.

As the Congressional Research Service notes, the debate around energy policy hinges on long-term vs.  short-term focus and a drive to increase supply vs. encourage conservation. Sometimes the best choices in this area are the least popular. As the report says:

An energy policy that would most effectively shield the nation and the economy from the worst effects of supply shortages would be a policy that might well deny the nation the full benefits of cheap and plentiful energy when markets are stable.

Although the book by Levi recommends developing new energy sources and pushing for cleaner fossil fuel standards, others believe that the only way forward it through transitioning to new sources. Historically, we have seen transitions in energy and technology – including the coal-powered steam engine, electricity, and petroleum use; however, projections suggests that a significant transition to new clean energy sources, such as wind or solar, would take decades in the current environment. That may be too late to prevent long term impact of global warming. As a recent article in the New York Times explains, “we have a lot of mainstream science that says if human society keeps burning fossil fuels with abandon, considerable land ice could melt and the ocean could rise as much as three feet by the year 2100.”

Considering that little has changed since the Congressional Research Service reported to Congress on Energy Policy: Historical Overview, Conceptual Framework, and Continuing Issues in 2004, the chances of a complete transition to a new form of energy seem unlikely at best. Rather, the policy of the current administration seems to parallel Levi’s, pursuing many energy sources at once.

Finding ways to balance the pursuit of multiple energy sources while encouraging meaningful change in current policies certainly raises challenges. However, some states appear to be pushing for alternative management processes. For example, California Public Utilities Commission has been encouraging power companies to increase energy storage to more efficiently manage the greater demand for energy in peak times. According to a recent TriplePundit story, California Moves Forward on Energy Storage, management of energy in this way “makes for better utilization of clean, renewable power, and, by extension, less pollution and carbon emissions.”

An important dilemma in the use of electricity as an energy source is the seasonal peaks of usage and the inefficiencies that it brings. Policies that encourage energy storage as well as clean sources for electricity generation will help work toward that balance.

I look forward to reading more of the book. I’ll share any good insights that I find.

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One thought on “Energy Policy and Transitions

    Energy Transitions: Natural Gas | Spinning the green web said:
    September 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    […] ← Energy Policy and Transitions […]

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