Beyond Fossil Fuels - Power Lunch with Executives and Environmentalists
What happens when energy executives sit down with environmentalists?
up with a plan for the future that leaves fossil fuels to the dinosaurs.
Berlin Snell Sierra Club online July 2002
When Vice President Dick Cheney and his National Energy Policy
Development Group met
last year, they were supposed to come up with a plan that would
best serve the country.
Instead, Cheneys task force, made up exclusively of energy-industry
lobbyists, sought massive subsidies for the oil, gas, coal, and
nuclear industries; the
construction of 1,300 power plants ("More than one new plant
per week, every week for
twenty years running," said Cheney); and increased drilling
and mining on public lands.
The only serious attention conservation and renewable energy received
was when the
Department of Energy tapped those program budgets to pay for printing
10,000 copies of
the White House plan.
Asked why the vice president would turn exclusively to people
like thenEnron CEO
Kenneth Lay for energy advice, Robert Bennett, Enrons attorney,
responded: "Where are
Mr. Cheney and others supposed to get their information from? The
There are other voices to be heard, though, and other energy paths.
For 30 years, the
United States has had the means to meet its energy needs and decrease
Mideast oil without having to drill, dig, and destroy this countrys
exquisite natural places.
So Sierra decided to flip through a more diverse Rolodex to put
together our own energy
We didnt only talk to environmentalists. We also invited
the head of a multinational oil
company, a labor leader, an architect, a state policymaker, and
a utility executive. And on
a wintry day in San Francisco, beneath Ansel Adams photographs of
and Yosemite Valley, we gathered (several joining by telephone)
and talked about how
we might get past the status quo to implement environmentally positive
The group, while more inclusive than Cheneys, was potentially
more volatile as well. But
instead of sparks between adversaries (which we worried about),
there were genuine
surprises: a corporate head questioning the sustainability of our
economy; an environmentalist arguing that growth can be good if
were growing the right
things; and the man once responsible for some of our largest nuclear
power plants saying
that "in this age of terror, we just cant have them."
All agreed, moreover, that the path ahead can and must lead beyond
fossil fuels. Even
BPs Lord John Browne concurredthough he would not take
the bait when the Earth
Policy Institutes Lester Brown asked him to finally declare
what "BP" stood for these
days. (His company had floated the idea in promotional material
that the former British
Petroleum was now going Beyond Petroleum.) "BP stands for BP,"
replied a good-natured
Most remarkable was the consensus among participants that a peaceable,
sustainable energy policy is within reach. "In the United States,
we have the means to
kick the oil habit," says the Electric Power Research Institutes
Kurt Yeager. "Its very
important to set this as a leadership goal." Or not: "If
we like Gulf wars," Yeager also
says, "we dont need to do anything."
Despite the fact that much of the Bush administrations plan
made its way into House and
Senate energy bills, we still have a choice. "Technology isnt
whats inhibited our energy
policy," says the California Power Authoritys David Freeman.
"Its been pure politics."
All we need is political leadership in Washington with the vision
and courage to choose
wisely how we light the way ahead.
Carl Pope: In "Challenges and Opportunities for the 21st
Century," the U.S. Department
of Energy published the following statement: "Our environmental
improving urban air quality to abating the risk of global warmingrequires
a mix of energy
sources that emits less carbon dioxide and other pollutants than
todays mix. Our national
security requires secure supplies of oil or alternatives to it.
. . . And for reasons of
economy, environment, security, and stature as a world power alike,
the United States
must maintain its leadership in the science and technology of energy
supply and use."
Those are admirable words, but the Bush administrations
energy plan wont get us there.
Weve had recent reminders, both in California, with its
energy crisis, and globally, with
the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the turmoil in the Middle
East, that we should
be thinking differently about our energy future, particularly when
it comes to our use of
fossil fuels. Thats why we invited you all here.
David Freeman: Im intrigued that you quoted from the Department
of Energy. As the
energy-policy coordinator in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations,
I was the first
person in the American government with an energy responsibility.
Back in the 1960s our
energy policy was to pray for mild weatherand that policy
hasnt changed. The
Appalachian states are still in the hands of the coal people, and
politicians still worry
about carrying Texas in the next election. The technical solutions
are there; theyve been
there for a long time. Technology isnt whats inhibited
our energy policy; its been pure
We always talk about things that are going to require 25 years
and we never begin. Just
because its going to take a long time to do something is all
the more reason to start with
some urgency. If, after the oil crisis of 1973, we had decided we
wanted to pay attention
to 19th-century writer Jules Verne, who told us that we were going
to eventually get our
fuel from waternamely, by separating the water into hydrogen
and oxygenwe would
probably have a hydrogen economy by now.
Pope: Kurt, as president of the utility-funded Electric Power
Research Institute you sit in
the heart of the energy business. From your perspective, how does
the world look?
Kurt Yeager: Id characterize the challenge we face using
what the Japanese call the
"trilemma" of population, poverty, and pollution. How
do we balance those realities on a
global basis, in a century when the conjunction of those forces
is becoming extremely
We have to learn how to operate in a world of 10 billion people.
But, to a large extent,
were still operating with a hunter-gatherer mentality, particularly
in the energy field.
I, too, see the goal in this century being an electricity-hydrogen-energy
economy that will
make us independent of fossil fuels. The Middle East is the only
place in the world where
we can get large quantities of oil. As the rest of the world develops
well all be sucking on
that same straw. If we like Gulf wars and all the other issues that
are dependent on our
addiction to that oil source, then we dont need to do anything.
But if thats our choice, I
can only see things getting dramatically worse, and creating more
and more strains in our
relations with other countries. In the United States, we have the
means to kick the oil
habit, and its very important for us to set this as a leadership
Lester Brown: Unlike some of the rest of you, Im not an
energy expert. But its clear to
me that we have the means to move away from oil and toward renewable
resources. Over the last several years, there have been two areas
technological progress: wind turbine design and fuel cells. Together,
technologies are going to provide the basis for restructuring the
global energy economy.
Fifteen years ago it cost 35 cents to generate a kilowatt-hour of
electricity from wind;
today, its down to 4 cents, and the cost is still falling.
Wind is now becoming highly
In 2001, wind-electric generation worldwide increased by 31 percent;
in the United States
it jumped by a staggering 66 percent. Three of the wind-rich statesNorth
Kansas, and Texashave enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy
all the nations
electricity needs. Europe can satisfy its electricity needs from
offshore turbines. China can
double its electricity from wind alone.
Once you are able to get cheap electricity from wind, you have
the option of electrolyzing
water and producing hydrogen. Hydrogen is the fuel of choice for
the fuel-cell engines
that every major automobile manufacturer is working on. Were
looking at a situation now
in the United States where farmers and ranchers in wind-rich states
could one day be
supplying not only much of the countrys electricity but also
much of the fuel to run the
Indeed, the economics of energy begin to overwhelm the economics
of agriculture in
terms of potential farm income. We already have in Washington very
support for wind, particularly from members of Congress from Great
Plains states. These
politicians realize that income generated by wind tends to stay
in the community. The
turbine for which the farmer gets $2,000 in royalties is probably
going to generate
$100,000 worth of electricity in a year. Were looking at a
situation now where, within five
years, there will be thousands of ranchers in this country who will
be earning far more
from electricity sales than from cattle sales.
Pope: John Browne, you run one of the worlds largest energy
companies. You actually
deal with the practical realities of demand. What kind of energy
policy do you support?
Lord John Browne: Any sustainable policy first has to make economic
it is very difficult to support. Second, it must speak to the quality
of life, as Kurt Yeager
indicated, with more people on the planet. Third, we need to think
about time scales and
transitions. How do we get things done in a way that doesnt
shock the world financial
system, but that achieves an end that is appropriate for the world?
Whatever the policy,
it must attend to todays problems and recognize that the easiest,
most graphic gain will
actually come from efficiencies in the current energy system. Fourth,
it has to recognize
that there is a changing mix of energies. Over the history of energy
consumption, use has
changed and that wont stop. And fifth, the policy should be
determined and enabled by a
world commitment to innovation and technology.
We have to start with realism. During the period of this two-hour
forum 31,000 people will
be born. Population growth is pushing up the demand for energy worldwide
by 1 to 2
percent a year. And at present, oil and gas appear to be the only
supply sources for this
incremental increase in demand. In order to avoid undue dependence
on oil and gasand
the attendant economic and social riskswe need to encourage
a diversity of supply. This
would also, and importantly, reduce the carbon impact of the energy
William McDonough: I fundamentally agree with Lord Browne that
the market has to rule
this transition, and the engine of change will be commerce. If we
want to change quickly,
we need to do really effective commerce. But I see efficiency as
having no intrinsic value
per se. The question is not "Are we doing it right?" in
terms of efficiency, but "Are we
doing the right thing?"
Yeager: I, too, believe in market economies, but I question whether
can keep us ahead of the consumption wolfparticularly if youre
trying to export a
consumption-based economy to the whole world. It seems to me that
at some point we
need to say enough is enough.
McDonough: From both an economic and environmental point of view,
we need to be able
to say, "Growth is good." The question is: What do we
want to grow? Do we want to
grow sickness or health? Do we want to grow intelligence or stupidity?
Do we want to
grow prosperity or poverty? We need to change the terms of the debate,
what we want to grow.
When you follow natures laws, growth is good. We can have
a fecund economy, and we
can have growth thats not something to be terrified of but
celebratedthe way you
celebrate a child growing up, or a tree that grows.
In that context, our firm has done an experiment, and it looks
like its going to work.
Weve designed a building at Oberlin College that makes more
energy than it needs to
operate. It purifies its own water. So its a building like
a tree. Weve made the building
fecund. BPs solar energy company helped us by donating the
Were also very involved with wind projects nowI see
them as a landscape design
issue, as a way of dispersing and providing a new cash crop across
the whole farming
sector. But instead of simply building clustered wind farms, which
are basically central
power plants, we are looking at a dispersed system that provides
more benefit to more
people. The distribution systems would be different, and they would
look beautiful in the
Additionally, were working on small-scale generationoptimization
scenarios in which
there are stationary fuel cells and microturbines every three blocks.
Its what we call
"anticipatory design science." Were challenging
designers to look at the vector on the
costs of renewables as it comes down, and look at the vector on
the costs of conventional
production, and then watch these two vectors coming together. Anticipate
them so that
youre ready. Essentially, we prepare our buildings now for
photovoltaics so that when
theyre cost-effective were ready to put them on. One
of the big problems with design is
that people dont anticipate these things so they never happen.
Browne: Bill, it sounds very interesting. Localized power generation,
using fuel cells,
turbines, et cetera, is something that is probably economic today.
Obviously, the details
vary country by country, region by region. And yet with the possible
exception of Japan,
where they are easing regulations on new buildings, its been
very difficult to get
architects and developers to take localized power generation seriously.
Why is that?
McDonough: This is the bane of my existence. My industry is one
of the most conservative
and slowest to change. The banks have a lot to do with that. Fannie
Mae and other
banking institutions are all essentially set up for one-size-fits-all
financing. They dont
know how to factor in something that doesnt meet their criteria.
There needs to be
Our firm had the same problem with Ford Motor Company, when we
got the contract to
rebuild its Rouge River assembly plant. We spent a year working
million-and-a-half-square-foot plant, but the engineers wouldnt
let us do anything. They
just wouldnt experiment. All they could do was say no. After
a year, I almost gave up. We
eventually found a way to pump air directly to the breathing zone
of the workers so that
we wouldnt have to heat and cool the entire building. And
were going to be doing it at
about 20 percent of what the normal building would cost to heat
and cool. But it took
getting everybody past their conventional practiceand it required
the vision and
authority of Bill Ford.
Pope: Jane, among the union members who might be at the front-end
of change, do you
sense excitement or anxiety about the future?
Jane Perkins: Its a mixed bag. There are so many inconsistencies
in the labor movement.
Take the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, for example.
Some of its
members build and run power plants. On the other hand, there are
members who build
houses and hook up their electricity. The home-construction side
of IBEW wants it to be
the solar union. The utility side of IBEW wants everything to stay
exactly the way it is.
And so there is a struggle, inside a major union, about what the
future ought to look like.
It is also true that in poll after poll, when asked about solar
energy, wind power,
efficiency, conservation, hydrogen fuel cells, and so on, union
members are even more in
favor of these things than the general public. Clearly, there is
a disconnect between the
policies that unions champion and the rank and file.
Pope: The Sierra Club conducted a poll in Michigan last winter.
We asked people about
improving fuel-efficiency standards for cars: 85 percent of the
general public thinks we
should make the auto companies produce cars that get 40 miles per
gallon. But 88
percent of the members of the United Auto Workers think so. This
is not the official
position of the United Auto Workers, which worked hand in hand with
administration to defeat an effort by Senators John Kerry [D-Mass.]
and John McCain
[R-Ariz.] to raise fuel-efficiency standards, but it is for 88 percent
of its members. Once
again we see how institutions are not nearly as nimble as their
Freeman: Californias a big institution, but we showed the
conservation of electricity to be
the most powerful force on Earth in terms of balancing supply and
demand. Last summer,
the predictions were that we were going to have 100 or more days
of blackouts. But we
appealed to the people of California and gave them incentives. We
said that if you save
20 percent compared to last year wed knock 20 percent off
your bill. In other words, we
paid people not to use electricity, and it was cheaper than paying
the price-gougers for
We had no blackouts. We tamed that tiger andknock on woodthe
market is under
reasonable control now. We showed that conservation was more than
virtue," as the vice president had suggested.
At a time of crisis, when the American people are intensely interested
in the subject, good
things happen. The problem is that the attention span of the American
people is pretty
short, and we havent figured out how to connect this issue
with the two big issues on
Earth: How do we solve this awesome problem of global warming, and
how do we win
the war on terrorismbecause were not going to win as
long as were getting our oil
from the nations that harbor terrorists.
A renewable hydrogen economy is obviously the answer; its
easier and cheaper than
fusion power. Over the years, we have spent more than $50 billion
working on fusion
power and its still a long, long way off.
Perkins: Im glad you mentioned nuclear power, because it
hasnt come up.
Freeman: Thats because the market killed itat least
its killed fission, which is what
powers our nuclear plants right now.
Perkins: But Im not sure fission nuclear power is dead.
Freeman: Its dead except in the hearts and minds of the
religious believers in nuclear
power. After September 11, we are surely not so dumb as to build
more Trojan horses in
our country. The danger of a penetration into a nuclear reactorwhich
is difficult but not
impossibleis so horrendous that weve got to be out of
our minds to build more nuclear
power plants. And I say this as a person whos had as much
experience with nuclear
power as anyone in this country. I shut down eight reactors when
I was the head of the
Tennessee Valley Authority, buried one at Rancho Seco [in Northern
nursed one back to health in New York. But in this age of terror,
we just cant have them.
While one can, I suspect, develop highly efficient nuclear technologies,
the expense of
insuring them against being blown up is likely to be a long-term
economic issue. Ill
concede that a technological optimist can make a case for breakthroughs
that will guard
against internal failure. I just cant see how you can build
a reactor thats safe from
Pope: Kurt, since EPRI is an advocate of nuclear energy as part
of the energy mix, I want
to give you a chance to respond.
Yeager: The engineering limitations of the nuclear system we have
today are fairly
evident. But I believe it would be a tragedy for future generations
if we outlaw nuclear
power because the current generation of engineering doesnt
meet our standards. As a
technologist, I strongly believe that we need to maintain that as
an option, and we ought
to be moving that technology forward, not subsidizing it, but allowing
it to move forward
on its merits.
Freeman: Well, then, are you in favor of repealing the law that
providers free insurance?
Yeager: Ah, now we start to diverge. Given where we are today,
no, I would not repeal
the Price-Anderson Act.
Pope: David, you have dealt with resistance to change in the utility
the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. What was it like?
Freeman: Well, the utilities, if anything, are worse than architects.
To put it bluntly, it
takes the Lord Brownes of the world. It takes someone at the top
saying, "By golly, we
are going to go down a different path."
One of the big problems with increasing the use of fuel-cell generators,
solar panelswhat we in the industry call "distributed
generation"is that you still need
to interconnect with the utilities. Yet the utilities view you as
competition. So its hard to
get interconnection agreements. They come up with ridiculous standby
charges that make
it uneconomic. We need to think of utilities like the automobile
industry: It takes a law to
make something happen. We didnt get seat belts, pollution
control, or better mileage
Yeager: Your comment about the flawed interconnection structure
generation is absolutely true, but its too easy to attack
the industry for being a
stick-in-the-mud. The issue is incentives. We need to fundamentally
change the incentives
so that innovation is profitable for the stockholders. Until we
do that, there will be no real
pressure to innovate.
I would add that the regulatory system is even more deeply flawed.
There is an unholy
alliance between incumbent utilities and regulators to make opening
the energy market
as difficult as possible. We do not have deregulation today. We
We should have an energy architecture that allows us the broadest
opportunities. We believe we could put an energy infrastructure
in place over the next
decade that could increase the productivity and efficiency of the
U.S. energy system by at
least 30 percent, with a similar level of pollution reduction. This
would be achieved not
through stringing more wires around the country but by applying
the technology we have
available to us today to the existing infrastructure. This would
generation to become an integral part of the infrastructure.
Pope: What specifically are the technologies we can use right
Yeager: For starters, today we control our power system with mechanical
are little different from those used in the 19th century. Compared
with the speed of light,
those mechanical switches have an equivalent delay factor of about
ten days. If I were
running a railroad and I said it took me ten days to open or close
a switch, for example, I
wouldnt move many trains.
The fact is that we now have an electric system whose unreliability
is creating costs that
are equal to its revenues. But we have the ability to control the
power system with silicon
semiconductor-based switches and related devices. Silicon will allow
us not only to carry a
lot more electricity on the wires we have, it will also allow us
to better control where it
goes, and will fundamentally improve the reliability of that power
at its end user.
There is another aspect of the silicon revolution that is also
really exciting. It goes back to
Edisons initial vision of the electricity system as a local
DC [direct current] rather than AC
[alternating current] system. If you look at most of the distributed
forms, for example, they naturally produce DC electricity. Converting
it to AC is both
expensive and inefficient. And if you look at the other end, the
user end, digital devices
such as computers and just about everything else use DC power. Most
of the cost of
powering those devices is driven by the cost of transforming AC
We have the means today to transform the electricity distribution
system so that when
youre building a new building, industrial park, or residential
development, you can power
it with a DC microgrid that is integrated into the AC power network.
By doing this, you
also eliminate the substantial heat and energy losses that result
from converting DC to
The efficiency and cost advantages of creating an electricity
grid like this are dramatic.
This also doesnt force the transition cost onto those who
dont need it but rather allows
those who need it to begin to build the capability into their power
network. Then, solar
power or other renewable energy forms can be incorporated without
reliability of the network.
McDonough: In the 1980s, Joe Morabito of Bell Labs wrote a white
paper on the notion
that utilities and telecommunications were actually the same industry
because they both
move electronsthough some are full of power, some are full
of information. As a
designer, what occurs to me is that theres absolutely no reason
we couldnt be sending
the information with the power. Theres no reason we couldnt
tag a kilowatt-hour with
information about where it came from, what its price is, and so
on. We could even send
information about the upcoming weather so buildings could pre-cool
at night when they
expect a blistering hot tomorrow. In design, information is power
and theres no reason
that power could not be information.
McDonough: Now, if we can tag a kilowatt-hour with its source,
customers could decide
what kind of power they want. They could say, "I just want
wind power," and then pay
We could then get together with our energy producers and our appliance
and our electronics manufacturers. We could sit down with General
Electric and say, You
want to bring good things to life? How about a refrigerator that
goes back to the old
icebox concept and stores coolness in a block of frozen material
during certain hours?
How about a refrigerator with a brain that simply goes shopping
and does some diurnal
arbitrage and looks for the cheapest kilowatt-hour, or the greenest
whatever it is you want it to look for? For example, it could go
shopping at three oclock in
the morning, and freeze a block of salts. When you have an appliance
with an inherent
storage capacitysuch as a refrigerator that can store coldit
wouldnt have to run
during peak hours.
Pope: It sounds like the concept of smart electricity, where you
trade in the dumb meter
for a system that allows the user and the supplier to interact around
McDonough: Yes, to communicate. Information is power and power
Freeman: The problem with thinking along those lines is that the
technology is so exciting
and interesting that we often lose contact with the people of the
world and what the
serious problems are.
Perkins: Thats because the ideas arent matching up
with the politics. We need to go
from the ideas and all the solutions that are out there and get
down to the "normal"
people who respond. The people of California responded to a very
simple idea, which was
"Well pay you to not use as much electricity." Conservation
is a proven way to deal with
an interim problem. Efficiency is a way to deal with an interim
problem. But the challenge
is getting the ideas to the "normal person," and having
the grassroots political voices
heard in the process.
The labor movement is an important part of getting ideas spread
out among people who
can make a difference. But if this is going to happen, its
very, very critical that worker
issues are addressed. It is not enough to say that all these ideas
are going to create new
job opportunitiesespecially when youre talking to a
mine worker whos not going to
mine coal, or an autoworker whos worried that his particular
company isnt going to
transition fast enough to keep him employed.
We also need a plan that says, unambiguously, that theres
a role for governmentthat
regulation is not a bad thing if were talking about regulating
against greed, rip-offs, et
cetera. Part of the reason folks in California responded as they
did to the energy situation
was that there was rampant greed involved and everybody could see
Freeman: We simply have not been successful in persuading the
American people that
dealing with energy issues and climate change is a net benefit to
all Americans. The
oppositionthe coal people, especially, but also a lot of others
with economic clouthave
bombarded Congress and the press with questionable numbers about
how much its
going to cost financially and in terms of safety and jobs. We need
to be far more
aggressive in persuading Americans that the cleaner energy path
is in their best
Brown: It was interesting that during the months coming up to
the Kyoto Protocol talks
on climate change in 1997, the Clinton administration began to realize
that the American
people were not on board on this issue. So it started holding press
administration brought together leading scientists, including some
Nobel Prize winners, to
talk about climate change.
If we are indeed moving into a period that requires rapid change,
then governments may
have to assume responsibility for educating the public. We dont
have time to educate a
generation of teachers, who will educate a generation of kids, who,
a generation later,
will become the decision-makers.
This is a new role that governments must playthey need to
systematically hold press
conferences, report the latest findings, explain how atmospheric
CO2 levels have gone
up, and how we have contributed to it. Let scientists explain what
is likely to happen over
the next 10, 50, or 100 years if we continue with business as usual.
I hearken back to Franklin Roosevelt, with his fireside chats,
where he sensed the need
to help the American people understand what was happening, and to
them. Even if he couldnt provide all the answers, at least
he was talking with them, and it
provided a sense of security and common purpose that had not existed
Without realizing it, we may have moved into a period where governments
now have to
use the bully pulpit to educateto shape the thinking that
will help us bring about a new
Yeager: My view is somewhat different. I think one of the problems
is that in our society,
everything has to be sold as a crisis. If its not a crisis,
youve got to make it a crisis. Its
taken a long time to get where we are today with regard to climate
change. If we were to
go to zero carbon emissions tomorrow, the levels would still continue
This is not an argument for doing nothing. Quite the contrary.
What we need is a strategic
plan that says the solution is not the tactical step tomorrow but
a sustained campaign to
improve the efficiency with which we use energy. Carbon, basically,
is a measure of
inefficiency in combustion. Our strategic solution would incorporate
technology to improve the efficiency of our energy system.
Browne: Yes, you have to think of the time scales. You need to
try to figure out as best
as you can what the nature of the world will benot just for
the next quarterly earnings,
but for 30 to 50 years time.
These things are impossible to get perfect. But at least you have
to build a set of choices
that speak to the way in which the world is likely to go, and the
way in which the
consumers of the world, widely taken, are likely to want to be over
a longer period.
Fifty years ago, BP put out its first review of world energy.
On the cover of this report was
a picture of coal because at the time coal was actually the most
important source of
energy. In a short time weve gone through all sorts of transitions.
Coal has diminished in
importance; weve gone to oil, and now gas. Natural gas produces
carbon but much less
per unit of workable energy produced than oil, and its now
outstripping oil as the fuel of
choice in many parts of the world.
But beyond gas, what is there? Well, I think theres going
to be a mix of energies. I
expect oil and gas to be contributing for a long time. But there
will be more contributors.
There will be hydrogen, if we can figure out the many challenges
involved. There will be
wind. There will be solar. No one silver bullet is clear at the
Freeman: In a discussion I had with Enrons Ken Lay last
August, we talked about the
natural-gas industry as being the transition industry from the age
of fossil fuels to the
In fact, we even talked about the gas infrastructure that Enron
had that could be used to
ship, store, and distribute hydrogen produced by wind farms in Texas.
We talked about
tapping the enormous wind reserves there to replace the natural-gas
reserves that are
being depleted. Do you see the natural-gas industry as being the
obvious transition from
fossil fuels to the solar-hydrogen economy?
Browne: You never know. We only find out later how the energy
mix work We only find
out later how the energy mix works. Natural gas has some very important
has more hydrogen than carbon in a ratio, compared with oil or coal.
But we need to
figure out how to reform it in a way that makes sensethat
doesnt simply produce
hydrogen and leave the carbon dioxide in someone elses backyard.
That research is
Freeman: With regard to natural gasquite frankly, Im
still with Jimmy Carter, who said
that if you take a long enough view, it probably will go down in
history that we were
barbaric to burn up all this natural gas just to make electricity.
Im not sanguine about
what the supply and demand of natural gas, over the next 20 years,
is going to be. I
think were in for some real price spikes.
I also want to comment on the role of wind power. I, too, think
its a huge opportunity,
but we probably arent focusing it as well as we could. The
point about beginning in
earnest with a move toward the hydrogen economy has to be taken
seriously. Right now,
Im negotiating power contracts. This afternoon, Im working
on a wind project.
Unfortunately, in California, the wind doesnt blow when the
peak loads occur. Its real
hot on summer afternoons because the wind doesnt blow. We
need to begin to match
wind power with electrolysis plants, in order to use wind power
around the clock to
produce hydrogen. All this enthusiasm for wind power is a wonderful
opportunity to get
the hydrogen economy started. But I dont see that happening.
As a matter of fact, I want to criticize my good friends Bill
Clinton and Al Gore for their
program to build a new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles without
alternative-fuel program to match it. We have not begun, in America,
any systematic plan
for developing the hydrogen-fuel infrastructure. Now the Bush administration
endorsed the hydrogen fuel cell but theres no program for
the development of the fuel or
for building hydrogen-fuel filling stations. I mean, lets
have one seat at the table for
common sense, which suggests that the clean technology needs a clean
fuel to go with it.
We are not demanding enough of government.
Brown: The key to rapidly moving from the heavy fossil-fuel dependence
of today to
renewable energy resources is leveling the economic playing field.
Either we eliminate the
subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear or we do something like extend
tax credit. We need to get the market to tell the ecological truth.
Yeager: I am an energy agnostic. I think we should be striving
to raise the bar on all the
technologies weve been discussing, and then let them seek
their rightful place in the
market. For example, say that by 2050 we want our power system to
have the following
specifications in terms of cost, reliability, cleanliness, safety,
and so forth. Then look at all
the technologies in the world. If you can meet those specifications,
youve got a role to
play. If you dont meet those specs, then you dont. We
dont do that with coal, we dont
do it with renewables. We tend to be proponents or opponents of
a particular solution,
we tend to pre-define.
We ought to say: This is what we, as society, want the energy
system to be able to
produce, and you have this amount of time to get there. Why dont
we have the intestinal
fortitude and commitment to make that the basis for our decisions?
Pope: But we have a system for this . . .
Freeman: . . . its called democracy.
Yeager: Well, democracy tends to be exploited rather easily.
Freeman: Its the worst form of government, except for all