Monday, February 7, 2011

ACORE Editorial: Renewable Energy-A Critical Piece of the Puzzle

RE-Vision Op-Ed: Renewable Energy-A Critical Piece of the Puzzle

By Stephen E. Morgan, CEO of American Clean Energy
Recently I was attempting to help my 6-year old assemble a puzzle. I suggested that he start with pieces that have smooth edges and work from the outside, in. As usual, he ignored me and promptly began force-fitting pieces into places where they were not going to fit without the help of a sharp instrument.

Our society takes a similar approach when it tackles complicated problems like the energy puzzle facing the nation. We start with our minds made up as to what the completed picture should look like and we coax and argue the pieces of the puzzle into place--usually with the same outcome as my son who, after repeated failed attempts to get a meaningful picture, gives up in frustration with a partially solved puzzle.

What we need is a Comprehensive Energy Policy. That effort starts with a thorough review of the issues related to production, transportation and use of all available energy resources, identifying and where possible, quantifying the problems attendant to each. It proceeds with fact based discussion of all possible solutions, examining their effects and likely outcomes--finding the edges that fit together. It culminates in a coherent picture, one in which all parts fit together without the benefit of having parts lopped off or worse discarded because they don’t fit with our pre-conceived notion of what the end state should look like. I submit this is exactly what our political, policy and business leaders need to do to craft a coherent energy policy for this nation.

Much of the recent debate regarding a national energy policy has focused on what we call it, not what it does for us. Is it a National, Renewable or Clean Energy Policy? Much of the discussion is focused upon which market segments should be winners and which losers. We are not in a position to be picking winners or losers. We do not yet fully understand what the final picture can and should look like.

The current energy mix has evolved over a very long period of time and admittedly not always rationally. However, significant economic value exists in the energy production and delivery infrastructure built over the last two centuries that, as a practical matter is not going to be stranded or discarded without significant legal, economic and societal damage. From an engineering and operational standpoint we couldn’t replace it all overnight anyway. Arguing stridently to do so, regardless of motivation, will not help us solve this puzzle it will simply delay solution or worse cause us to give up in frustration as we have several times since the oil embargo in 1973.

Would we build the energy infrastructure we currently have if we started with a clean sheet of paper? Perhaps not, but that is not relevant to the debate. We are starting with the puzzle already partially assembled. Our job is to finish assembling that puzzle in a way that solves current problems and attempts to anticipate and avoid future problems. This task requires us to take a fundamentally different approach focused on long term viability, security and sustainability of the energy mix that is the very foundation of our standard of living.

A viable Comprehensive Energy Policy need not be prescriptive, should not pick winners or losers or prefer one form of energy over another. It should however rest firmly on a base of scientific facts and an understanding of economic and societal costs and benefits. It can and should be informed by debate and input from every sector. In short, it should be the process whereby we architect the energy production and transport vision that takes us through this next century.

If we will create this process, regardless of what we call it, I am confident that we can solve the complicated energy puzzle that confronts the world, not just our economy. I am also confident that when the pieces of that puzzle get assembled we will find that renewable energy and energy efficiency turn out to be the critical pieces we are looking for!
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