Almost everyone supports the development of new sources of energy. However, differing personal and political opinions on what constitutes “safe” or “economical” mean the requirements that these energy sources must meet are far from uniform. For example, many liberals focus on new energy technologies that emit less carbon while conservatives focus more on sources that would give our nation the ability to produce our energy domestically.
Both of these goals can be attained, but the question remains: what is the best path forward?
Many on the left want to see a tax levied on carbon, arguing that this will force the development of greener technologies.But at least one environmental researcher, highlighted in the July 2010 edition of Popular Science magazine, thinks that technology innovation, rather than government policies, will lead to new and greener energy sources.
Part of what alarms his critics is how un-alarmist his conclusions have turned out to be. For example, instead of using policy to change how people will behave in the future, [Jesse] Ausubel prefers exploring technological responses to what he believes people are going to do regardless. His favorite defense of this laissez-faire approach is to explain that, absent any policy dictating that it should happen, energy consumption over the past 100 years has steadily “decarbonized.” That is, humankind has moved to fuel sources with progressively better ratios of carbon atoms to hydrogen atoms–wood at 10:1, coal at 2:1, oil at 1:2, natural gas at 1:4 and, eventually (in the future Ausubel envisions) 100 percent hydrogen. He thinks technology inevitably improves things. “That’s not to say I don’t worry about the downsides of technology,” he says. “A lot of my work is about that. But my general interest is new and high-tech ways of dealing with problems.”
Ausubel rightly argues that over the years, technology has steadily been advancing and decarbonizing largely without government intervention, a concept that should continue in the future.
For examples supporting Ausubel’s argument, one does not have to look any further than the nuclear industry, where a trend of innovation can be seen with companies like Babcock & Wilcox looking to bring asmaller nuclear reactor to market. Their goal is to create a modular reactor that can easily be shipped to its destination for final assembly. The smaller size means using one-fifth of the staff a regular size reactor requires, a benefit that will significantly lower operation costs, which in turn means these reactors will allow smaller utilities to diversify their energy profiles.
That means more utilities may look into using nuclear energy, carbon-free technology that produced enough energy around the clock to serve as baseload power.
Additionally, recent technological innovations in the algae biofuel industry could lead to major advances in the hydrogen field. An algae biofuel technology company recently announced that they had developed a method to cheaply ‘harvest’ hydrogen from algae, a method that scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory called “the ‘Holy Grail’ of the hydrogen economy.”
Examples of innovations like these in the energy industry are happening frequently and largely without government intervention. With talk about a new climate/energy bill being written, Congress needs to remember that it should not try to force technological advances but instead should focus on creating a climate where innovation is encouraged.
Ultimately, instead of the heavy hand of the government steering the development of our energy technologies by artificially affecting the price of energy through carbon taxes or selective subsidies, we should let the private sector do what it does best: innovate and commercialize, two things that will benefit everyone in the process.
Originally posted on American Solutions