Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Energy-Independent Future?

John Stewart's montage of the last eight Presidents promising to get the U.S. off foreign oil is hilarious. He expresses (like so many others) shock that we have not been able to achieve that goal.

Let me offer a non-political thought: Maybe it is difficult to get off oil because fossil fuels are the best source of energy for mobile use. Yes, we could greatly improve gas mileage (using less foreign oil) by switching to diesel. Modern diesel engines are clean and can nearly double the mileage over gasoline (bet you didn't know that). But, diesel has a "bad name" in the U.S.

Or, we could greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil by switching to natural gas to run our automobiles and trucks.

Either of those would pay huge dividends -- but they are still fossil fuels.

What about electric cars?  Given the present technology, they will play only a small role. Too expensive, range too limited, and too long to recharge (I just read an estimate that a filling station with 20 pumps would need 67 electric charging stations to service the same number of vehicles and the charging process will take twenty minutes!). Will electric vehicles improve? Certainly, but not in the next year or two.

So, we continue to use gasoline to fuel our vehicles because diesel is politically incorrect, natural gas has never caught on, and electric isn't "ready for prime time." Getting off of gasoline is hard because there is a tremendous investment in gasoline infrastructure (i.e., your local gas station) and because it does the job very well at reasonable cost.

2 comments:

  1. I think you hit on a key point about the perception of diesel. Another way to reduce our dependence would be the better use of mass transit. Wichita is an excellent example of this failure...myself included. Just watch at any intersection and notice the number of single occupant vehicles! It is incredible and mind-boggling. I have made an effort to "bundle" my errands to reduce trips to Wichita, but too often, it is still just me in my vehicle. Better public education and usage (and delivery) of mass transit throughout the nation would greatly reduce our usage of fuel.

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