Democrats & Liberals Archives

New Era of Sustainable Energy

On Sunday, I read an interesting article titled “Rebuilding the Middle Class,” by Joel Kotkin and David Friedman, in which they say that we can gain good jobs and thereby resurrect the Middle Class, through a big project of rebuilding our decaying infrastructure. This set me thinking that maybe we need more than a renovated infrastructure. We need a redesigned infrastructure to accommodate the coming new era of sustainable energy.

They start their article with statistics that demonstrate that while a small number of Americans are becoming super-rich, the Middle Class is shrinking:

OVER THE LAST 20 years, the United States has regressed into what one economist calls a "plutonomy" — a society in which the largest economic gains flow to an ever smaller portion of the population. According to recent economic statistics, from 1999 to 2004, the inflation-adjusted income of the bottom 90% of all U.S. households grew by 2%, compared with a 57% jump for the richest 10%. Incomes rose by more than 87% for households annually making $1 million and more than doubled for those that take home about $20 million a year.

To avoid a "plutonomy," the authors suggest that we rebuild our infrastructure. They point out that doing this has helped during the Depression and when the Interstate Highway System was built.

This is true. But today, besides dwindling wages, we are faced with two additional, terrible problems: global warming and job outsourcing. As I have said before, global warming is informing us that we must replace oil and gas with sustainable energy sources. To counter job outsourcing, we must develop a new industry that brings the comparative advantage back to U.S. A sustainable energy industry will fill the bill nicely.

A sustainable energy industry may require new elements to our infrastructure. Changing from oil and gas to an energy system based on hydrogen, for instance, will require new factories, new transportation systems, new political arrangements and will lead to new trading systems. The same is true if we concentrate on solar cells or on biofuels. At this point we don't know what the new era will be like, which is why I recommended a huge study to put us on the right track.

In addition to studying sustainable energy sources themselves, we will need to redesign our infrastructure to gear up our society to the use of the new energy devices.

A long-term project for research on sustainable energy sources, redesign of infrastructure to accommodate new energy sources, building the new infrastructre, and the preparation of workers for the high-paying new jobs, will set us on the road to rebuilding the Middle Class and to the achievement of broad prosperity. We must get started on this project as soon as possible.

Posted by Paul Siegel at December 4, 2006 5:39 PM
Comment #197719


We’re already studying renewable energy sources and infrastructural needs. We’re already investing in the necessary R&D. I think we should increase R&D in conjunction with industry, but truthfully, this is as much a market issue as anything else.

We already know what needs to be done. Be more aggressive in raising automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards. Continue and expand tax breaks for energy efficiency and for renewable energy. Tip the scales enough to make other sources of energy besides oil cost competitive. Require utilities to allow small scale power producers, including residences, to pump electricity back into the grid. Continue R&D to get coal gasification and carbon sequestration costs down. Possibly cap oil imports, which will drive up the price of oil. Be realistic about the need for nuclear energy. Realize that the goal doesn’t have to be to completely eliminate the need for oil. Understand that no one energy source is going to be the answer.

Many, many studies have been conducted analyzing these and other issues.

Posted by: Trent at December 4, 2006 10:16 PM
Comment #197728


All of your articles are good but this one is, to quote “Tony the Tiger”, GREEEEEAAAAAT!

It’s time to think beyond petro and coal. Kansas amazes me. They fight like hell against wind turbines because it will “scar” the landscape and yet they rally behind so-called clean burning coal generators. This is insanity.

I recently read David Remer stating concern over population growth, well, one of the greatest problems with population growth is the need for more electricity, heating fuel, transportation fuel, etc. But WE do nothing to curtail our usage. We all expect someone else to do it for us.

We American’s feed the growth of “radical Islam” every time we fill the gas tank in our cars, but we balk at the idea of alternative fuel. (With the exception of the rights desire for more nuclear waste).

It’s past time to end the insanity. We’ve all heard of the solar laundromat:

While we can’t grow sugar cane no one can convince me that we don’t have the technology to produce our own fuel. Oh, and what’s happened to rural public transportation? Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s I had no trouble at all finding a bus to take me to and from almost anywhere.

Jimmy Carter tried like hell to convince us of the truth. We rejected the truth and chose convenience. Now we’re in deep sh*t. IMO the American public will continue to ignore reality until it bites us all square in the ass.

In fact it’s already biting pretty damn hard. We have brave and patriotic men and women dieing every day just so we can have a little more time to begin developing a strategy of energy independence. So, we’ve been saying we’re going to start doing this for how long?

Posted by: KansasDem at December 4, 2006 11:23 PM
Comment #197739

Great topic, and good comments by Trent and KD.
I agree with you Trent. Many people have been studying this issue for a long time — and much of the technology for a change to alternative energy already exists. We just need real govt. support to drive the change, and a lot more private industry investment to make it happen.

You wrote:
“Be realistic about the need for nuclear energy.”

I made a comment and gave a link the other day in Jack’s ‘Clean Coal’ thread in the red column about the possibility of safe Thorium reactors being used, rather than dangerously toxic Uranium ones. I thought for sure Jack would make a comment since he’s so pro-nuclear, and it was a chance for us to possibly agree on something, but maybe he missed it, since he never said a word in reply.
Here is the link again to some basic info about Thorium. Scroll down the page about an inch to find the article. Btw, this is a very good website for folks to bookmark if they’re at all interested in reading the latest news and developments in alternative energy.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 5, 2006 12:49 AM
Comment #197746

Forget coal and nuclear. Solar is going to be the way to go. Several Universities are working on nanotechnology plastic films that will revolutionize the industry by greatly reducing the cost of solar panels. Today they are made of highly refined and pure silicon. it is in great demand by the computer industry and therefore very expensive. It is also very brittle and can break like glass. Silicon solar panels are about 12% efficient at converting sunlight to electricity.

So far researchers have developed solar panels with nanoplastics that are about 5.5% efficient. they predict that within 5 years they will reach their goal and produce solar panels that are 10% efficient at 20% the cost of silicon panels. Solar collector paint is also just around the corner.

So if you are going to build a house, put the longest and higest side oriented to the south and you can also charge your electric car. wouldn’t it be great to tell the electric company goodbye or better yet make them buy your excess electricity.

One of the best sites I have found for the latest in science and technology is—

If you are interested in energy from sugar, check out the mighty sugar beet on the web. It grows very well in the states.

Many people think that energy from the Sun could never supply all of our energy needs but, I say it can and will, just wait and see. In the future when humans only need electrical energy generated by the Sun, we won’t be discussing greenhouse gases anymore.

Posted by: jlw at December 5, 2006 3:26 AM
Comment #197748

Common sense dictates that we decide which alternative energy source we are going to use before we start building an infrastructure for it.

I see several options avaliable for alternative energy on the horizon such as neclear, solar, hydrogen, etc. Each would require it’s own infrastructure.

How many of you have invested in the companies who are researching these energy sources? Solar just might be the answer in the long run. I don’t think so enough to put my money behind it, and if it is then I expect to pay for it and not get a return for an investment that I didn’t make. If you feel that strongly about solar, neclear, hydrogen, or any other energy source, then put your money behind it and make a great profit.

Posted by: tomd at December 5, 2006 5:59 AM
Comment #197754

Many people think that energy from the Sun could never supply all of our energy needs

With the exception of nuclear, the sun does supply all our engery needs: gas, coal, wind, even tides would not exist without the sun. I say, let’s just cut the middle man!

Great post Paul, you’ve made it through several comments without someone trying to tell you global warming is a hoax. People are starting to see reality.

jlw’s information about improvements in solar panel research is encouraging. I am beginning to believe they are going to become affordable.

To help make the leap, folks can give to (or a similar group). If you can’t fuel your home/car with zero emissions now, you can make a contribution to subsidize those generating energy that way.

Posted by: Steve K at December 5, 2006 8:56 AM
Comment #197794

Very encouraging comments. Thank you.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at December 5, 2006 2:08 PM
Comment #197818

Potential Alternative Energy Sources:

  • (1) fusion

  • (2) solar

  • (3) hydrogen

  • (4) tidal forces

  • (5) wind

  • (6) geothermal

  • (7) biofuel and ethanol

Nuclear fission is a relatively B_A_D idea, and it’s not necessary, since we have better alternatives. Nuclear fission power proponents frequently tout nuclear fission power as a limitless supply of energy powered by a fuel that never runs out.

Not Recommended:

  • Nuclear fission

    • (a) Nuclear fission plants are extremely expensive to build (and still run the risk of improper operation).

    • (b) Nuclear fission plants have the potential for catastrophic environmental and human disaster (e.g. Chernobyl, 3 Mile Island, etc.).

    • (c) Nuclear fission plants create large amounts of hazardous, environmentally toxic radioactive waste that will remain hazardous for millennia.

    • (d) Nuclear fission plants would be wonderfully attractive targets for terrorits due to the potential for disastrous environmental and human damage.

BTW, What good is the Department Of Energy? What are we getting for our $23.5 billion (DOE’s 2007 annual budget)? That’s $64.4 million per day !, for cryin’ out loud. Seems like that much money, if ever put to good use, could have developed, by now, some alternative energy sources and more efficient automobiles?

Posted by: d.a.n at December 5, 2006 5:04 PM
Comment #197823

d.a.n., It’d be nice if the DOE focused on energy, but it’s been saddled with lots of other stuff. When you consider what a tiny fraction of that $23.5 billion actually goes to renewable energy or energy efficiency R&D you just gotta shake your head. Total budget for energy related work is about $2.6 billion.

Where does the rest of the money go?

Nuke security — $9.3 billion
Environment — $6.6 billion
Science (nat’l labs) — $4 billion
Management — $1 billion

(I rounded so the figures don’t add up.)

I’m sure there is waste here, d.a.n., but just because it’s called the Department of Energy doesn’t mean energy is the department’s chief concern. It does what the politicians tell it to do, of course.
Budget highlights on page 17.

Posted by: Trent at December 5, 2006 5:37 PM
Comment #197824

d.a.n., one more point. Of the $2.6 billion for energy, less than $1.2 billion is for renewables and energy efficiency.

Posted by: Trent at December 5, 2006 5:43 PM
Comment #197826

We most certainly could supply all of our power needs with solar and wind power, if we made it a priority. There is more than enough potential energy in them for that.

Hydrogen however is way over-hyped. For one thing, it is most certainly not an energy “source” but only an energy carrier i.e. it’s not something to be found in nature and pumped out like oil. It has to be manufactured from something else, which of course takes lots of energy. This energy would be provided by fossil fuels (in the immediate future), although renewable sources could be used. The only problem is most of the electricity is wasted, it’s much more efficient and sensible to just use the electricity directly. That’s why I think electric cars, if battery technology improves, could be a better choice than fuel cells. These could be developed now or in the near future, while usable fuel cells are decades away. This is one reason why the Bush administration and oil companies love to push hydrogen so much. It allows them to keep selling excessive amounts of oil in the meantime, and the oil companies can figure out how to monopolize hydrogen production and distribution.

Also, efficiency could be much improved. There’s no cheaper energy than the energy you don’t use. The amount of oil we’d gain in Alaska if we start drilling is less than we’d save by increasing gas mileage by only a couple miles per gallon over a few years.

Posted by: thom at December 5, 2006 5:52 PM
Comment #197828

And as much as no one wants to discuss this, we simply have too many people on this planet. It doesn’t mean much to develop clean technologies that reduce energy use and help the environment. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels directly cause global warming, but really too many people is the root of this and nearly all other environmental issues.

If the world population keeps growing, no foreseeable technology will be able to keep in check the environmental damage. Some people might say that talking about overpopulation devalues human life (like suggesting it treats us like cattle, to be managed), but this is wrong. Using up all our resources in one or two generations so our descendants have none is wrong, and human population growth will stop anyway, it’s just a matter of whether it’s in a humane, deliberate manner that benefits everyone, or done by exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity in which societies will crash and widespread suffering will ensue.

Posted by: thom at December 5, 2006 6:01 PM
Comment #197829

thom, yes, well stated. An article writer in the Red Column posted approvingly an article on a hydrogen economy. How did they propose to get the energy to produce this hydrogen? Through renewable sources. It makes you shake your head. As someone here posted recently and I’ve posted before, researchers think significant breakthroughs in producing solar panels are on their way.

Anyway, I really don’t favor a huge government-mandated transition to renewables. Instead I favor R&D to get renewable and energy efficiency costs down, more aggressive emission and fuel efficiency standards, tax breaks for investment and adoption of renewable and energy efficiency technology and practices, etc. I’m not completely opposed to JAck’s idea of raising oil taxes though I know the less affluent will be hardest hit. At any rate, I think the goal should be to tip the cost scales enough to make renewables cost competitive.

One problem with a heavy-handed government approach is that we don’t know exactly how it’s going to shake out in practice. I rolled my eyes about the plans for hydrogen cars and a hydrogen infrastructure for some of the reasons you listed.

I like your comments about the importance of energy efficiency and conservation.

Posted by: Trent at December 5, 2006 6:09 PM
Comment #197832
Trent wrote: I’m sure there is waste here, d.a.n.,
Yes, there is a L_O_T of waste .
Trent wrote: … but just because it’s called the Department of Energy doesn’t mean energy is the department’s chief concern.
    : )
Trent wrote: … less than $1.2 billion is for renewables and energy efficiency

($1.2 billion / $100K salaries ) = 12,000 salaried persons. OK, let’s say $200 million goes for non-salary items. That leaves enough for $100K salaries for 10,000 persons. Yet, we still can’t get any solutions?

The waste is as R_A_M_P_A_N_T as the government is bloated government.

For example, consider this $25 billion that no one knows what happened to it …

1. The Missing $25 Billion
Buried in the Department of the Treasury’s 2003 Financial Report of the United States Government is a short section titled “Unreconciled Transactions Affecting the Change in Net Position,” which explains that these unreconciled transactions totaled $24.5 billion in 2003.[2]
The unreconciled transactions are funds for which auditors cannot account: The government knows that $25 billion was spent by someone, somewhere, on something, but auditors do not know who spent it, where it was spent, or on what it was spent. Blaming these unreconciled transactions on the failure of federal agencies to report their expenditures adequately, the Treasury report con­cludes that locating the money is “a priority.”
The unreconciled $25 billion could have funded the entire Department of Justice (or the D.O.E.) for an entire year.

U.S. citizens should take a close look at all of this waste, graft, bribes, corruption, and corporate welfare.
It’s really mind boggling.

The government could have done something, but they won’t. Asking the government to do anything is pretty much a waste of time and money.

Take Homeland Security for instance.
One of the primary purposes of the government is National Defense.
Well, that’s a bit of a joke when ports and borders are wide open, even though billion$ have been spent to study those things. They often study things forever, costing billions, but never accomplish anything. A LOT of it is nothing more than bribes and graft. And, in some cases, it’s outright incompetence. Like being unable to tell anyone where $25 billion went to.

Trying to put things in perspective, the D.O.E. spend $1.2 billion on alternative and more efficient energy research … compare that with $2.0 billion in 2002 donated to federal campaign donations (of $200 or more) by a mere 0.15% (300,000 people) of the 200 million eligible U.S. voters.

Look at all this pork-barrel (about $28 billion per year).

Not to mention the estimated cost of the quagmire in Iraq (2903 U.S. Americans killed, 21788 maimed and injured, and monetary cost of over $348 billion).

CONGRESS is doing a wonderful job, which is why they have given themselves 8 raises since 1997 (but minimum wages haven’t been raised since 1997).

But, we keep rewardking them by re-electing them.

Where are our priorities?

Posted by: d.a.n at December 5, 2006 6:38 PM
Comment #197836

Whatever new energy sources we pursue, the infrastructure should focus on decentralization. No more of this quasi-monopolies on production or distribution. Each consumer should be able to be their own producer, at least for minimum needs. The network can’t be so fragile that failure of any single node can bring down a significant portion of the network. The network should be adaptable so that an eventual global network can be enabled, maximizing energy production and usage.

As Bucky Fuller used to point out, the Earth has a much greater energy income than we can spend, and for the most part we have only been tapping our energy savings (in the form of fossil fuels).

Posted by: Joseph Briggs at December 5, 2006 7:13 PM
Comment #197838

I wouldn’t be so hard on nuclear fission, d.a.n.. PBMR (Pebble Bed Modular Reactor), among others, looks promising regarding safety and it is under review for certification though no target date is set.

Posted by: Joseph Briggs at December 5, 2006 7:18 PM
Comment #197841


We ARE getting solutions. I consider that $1.2 billion a good investment. Check out the website. Check out the ITP (Industrial Technology Program) website. Most of the stuff is very unsexy; look at the titles of the research projects and their results (and then figure out how to get the public excited about them — here’s an example). And no, I’m not claiming that every R&D project pays off — you don’t know until you try.

I’m a fan of this kind of R&D, obviously. The government shares risk with industry; industry reaps the financial benefits while the public benefits by reduced energy intensity and reduced emissions/pollution and, in some cases, reduced product prices. My god; if manufacturing, for example, hadn’t show such increased gains in efficiency and pollution reduction we would be in much worse shape. As it is, it’s like plugging a hole in a dike with your finger because of constantly increasing demands caused by increasing population etc.

d.a.n., I agree with you that their is massive government waste, but I truly believe our investments in renewables and energy efficiency are not a good example of that.

Posted by: Trent at December 5, 2006 7:27 PM
Comment #197843

Joseph Briggs,

Increased operation safety is good, but the toxic waste and potential vulnerability to terrorism of Nuclear fission facilities is still a concern.

Just think if missles that can accurately target such facilities. Those facilities may become more of a liability than a benefit. To adequately protect fission reactors could become expensive, and still not be invulnerable.

There’s a fission reactor a few hundred miles from where I live.
I wouldn’t want to live any closer than that.
Things can go wrong.
Accidents can happen.
Once it happens, it will lay waste to a large region for centuries.
Also, because of these problems and concerns, fission reactors are VERY expensive to build.
Hence, I’d prefer safer alternatives to fission reactors.

Posted by: d.a.n at December 5, 2006 7:38 PM
Comment #197845
Trent wrote: d.a.n., I agree with you that their is massive government waste, but I truly believe our investments in renewables and energy efficiency are not a good example of that.
Trent, I hope so. There’s so much waste, corruption, trillion$ spent annually on all sorts of things, government growing ever larger, and a general lack of results from government. Having worked for a government contractor in the past (building fighter jets), and having seen massive fraud, waste, bureaucracy, corparate welfare, and corruption, it certainly makes one wonder.
Trent wrote: … but I truly believe our investments in renewables and energy efficiency are not a good example of that.
I certainly hope so. We need to reduce our dependence on oil. Our energy vulnerabilities are no laughing matter. Also, one could argue that our meddling in the middle-east is linked to oil. After all, there are many troubled regions in the world, but much of our interest is where the oil is?
  • Posted by: d.a.n at December 5, 2006 7:50 PM
    Comment #197849

    Interesting article about selective elective Oxidation of feedstock compounds to commidity compounds (potentially saving 65 trillion BTUs per year).
    BTW, I’ve got a cabin in the mountains (elev. 8000 ft) that uses solar panels to charge a large bank of batteries (kept outside in a underground cellar), and AC/DC converters. We get most of the heat from propane though. It gets very cold in the winter. It also has satelite internet ( That’s the only decent satelite internet I’ve seen that works well no matter where you live in the U.S.

    When I get the time and money, I’d really like to build a new house that is completely energy independent, gets it’s water from water wells, and uses underground heat-exchangers to pre-heat and cool water and air. It would cost a bit more than a typical home, but would save a lot of money there after.

    That’s another area that could stand huge improvements.
    The way the build houses these days, it’s almost as if they design them to be energy inefficient.

    Posted by: d.a.n at December 5, 2006 8:06 PM
    Comment #197865

    Joseph Biggs: You mentioned what should be our #1 priority, especially now that we have to consider the terrorist threat. Decentralization of the electrical grid. We need a lot more electric co-ops and a lot less of AEP. The co-ops are much more efficient and responsive to their customers and they are cheaper. They are an ideal fit with an increasing number of business and individuals who are generating their own electricity.

    Dan: I am reading off the front cover of the latest edition of Mother Earth News. “Gary Reysa built this solar heater for less than $350. It will produce the annual equivalent of 200 gallons of propane(about $400worth) for the next 20-plus years.” This edition of Mother Earth has articles on DRUGS vs. HERBS What you should know, Energy-Efficient Washers & Dryers, Buyer’s guide SOLAR HEATERS, Affordable Cars with FANTASTIC FUEL ECONOMY, 21st Century Homesteading and several articles on Heat Your Home FOR FREE easy DIY Solar Heating.


    Posted by: jlw at December 5, 2006 9:22 PM
    Comment #197872

    I have responded but it has not appeared yet.

    Posted by: Joseph Briggs at December 5, 2006 9:43 PM
    Comment #197874

    Thanks. Interesting.
    Increased efficiency is also a big part of the overall solution.

    Posted by: d.a.n at December 5, 2006 9:47 PM
    Comment #198023

    this is out of anything said in here but how come the White House still lights it Christmas tree with old school filament light bulbs? the could use LEDs strand that save over 3 times the energy that they are using right now,how about changing all those old bulbs for fluorecent ones,i mean they so many lights that they could probably save over $3.000 in energy costs alone,or tankless water heaters that saves 2/3 of overall energy expense,just an idea for the people that are talking so much about energy comsuption,Mario

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