Energy Futures

Two articles about energy sources caught my eye this weekend.

Leaving aside the snarky beginning Matier and Ross in the SF Chronicle tell us that Gavin Newsome, Mayor of San Francisco, has the results of a several year study by the Electric Power Research Institute. Electrical power generation by ocean action is feasible at two places in San Franciso:

[Enough] wave power could be tapped at Ocean Beach to keep the entire city lit — depending, of course, on how large a wave plant it chose to build.

The tides at the Golden Gate make that spot the best in the entire lower 48 states to produce tidal power, though the potential for installing turbine generators under the bridge is a bit limited by space.

I’d like to see the studies themselves of course. To say “feasible” does not cover all the potential issues; after all, great river dams were once feasible, became reality, and now are seen to create an enormous range of liabilities. However, CO2 oven construction is a problem in our faces today — most of it caused by burning fossil fuel for energy sources. We are on the path to scorching ourselves out of house and home. The power of the imagination is our best hope to reverse that march. The request for such a study represents the kind of imaginative and exploratory work that should be happening all over the world.

San Francisco Ocean Power

The second article appeared in the Sunday New York Times: ethanol.

Ethanol as a petroleum replacement is starting to ring a lot of mental cash registers. Corporations and investors with money to gamble are beginning to pay attention. This tells us of course that realization about petroleum dependencies (and danger) have begun to sink in. It seems though that “sink” does not capture the speed with which this is happening. Getting an ethanol “rush” might be closer to the reality.

“This is a bit like a gold rush,” warned Warren R. Staley, the chief executive of Cargill, the multinational agricultural company based in Minnesota. “There are unintended consequences of this euphoria to expand ethanol production at this pace that people are not considering.”

To its credit the article takes a proper “what is going on here?” look at the subject. Alexei Barrionuevo and his co-authors are not cheerleading the startling turn around in ethanol’s fortunes — promoted in large part, let it be said, by the well known PBS supporter, Archer Daniels Midland.

Ethanol Reshapes the Economy of the Heartland

Be sure to read the quick primer on the Range of Estimates on the Benefits, the key question to which is “is more energy going IN to the making of ethanol than can be gotten OUT?”

Given the catastrophe in waiting if atmospheric CO2 increase is not halted, and the dangers of petroleum dependency, it may be that ethanol is a necessary bridge away. It seems to me though to be a rickity bridge and should not be allowed to distract us from more stable, long term, sustainable answers to our energy needs.

You can see the entire series on energy in the Times, here.

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