Saturday, August 16, 2008

Energy too cheap to meter

At a recent family gathering the subject of energy prices came up. I stated my opinion that energy was going to remain at least as expensive as it is now for the rest of all of our lives. My college-aged nephew disagreed. There are very promising technologies now in the works involving solar, wind, geo-thermal, he stated. When the economies of scale and mass production kick in we will return to the equivalent of $2/gal. gasoline or even cheaper, he happily predicted.

Of course, he was not yet born when the same things were predicted about nuclear power. Young people today would probably be very surprised to hear that when nuclear power plants were first being designed there were predictions that nuclear power would become so cheap, once all the engineering was done and economies of scale and mass production kicked in, that they would not bother to even meter it.

Of course, that did not happen. There turned out to be so many unanticipated costs and downstream liability that power companies stopped building nuclear power plants more than 30 years ago. Perhaps someday the costs of other forms of energy will become so high that the price of nuclear power produced electricity, with all the liability and other downstream costs factored into the price, will be competitive again. Of course, at that point energy would be selling at prices much higher than they are now.

There are always additional costs and unanticipated problems with new technology. My prediction is that those who make decisions now assuming every increasing energy costs in the future will turn out to have made the right choices.


lyrl said...

Have you read about peak oil? My partner participated on the message boards for about a year, and it really helped us become informed about out energy situation.

At this point, additional costs and unanticipated problems aren't needed to make our energy outlook bleak. People such as your nephew are simply uninformed of facts such as those our army published a 86 page report on three years ago.

Dave Barrett said...

Thanks for the link to the army report. I had not heard of that report before.
Of course, as a conservationist I believe we should drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels irregardless of their price. We cannot continue using energy the way we have. But some people seem to be in denial about the need to make drastic changes in the way we use energy.