President Obama and the US Congress must make the development of Clean (or Green) Energy the chief national security and economic policy of the United States for the foreseeable future. For starters, it allows the President to remind the American people from time to time that our current energy policy is no longer sustainable — as evidenced by current gas prices — and has indirectly led us into our current conflicts (bin Laden hated us for a lot of reasons, esp. due to our deep and necessary ties to the Saudi Royal family). The faster we can end our reliance on Saudi gas, the quicker we can disentangle ourselves from an increasingly awkward and risky relationship. A switch to an economy not ruled by hydrocarbons will only benefit our long term economic prospects.
The President should push four critical areas over the next two years:
The Tea Party members running around complaining about being forced to give up their incandescent light bulbs (an innovation of the 19th century) should take note that we’d save billions of dollars annually if our current and future infrastructure used less energy. Energy savings begin at home with more efficient light bulbs, siding, insulation, windows, appliances that sip electricity, even new carbon nanotube based wiring (which utilizes principles of quantom dots to vastly improve the consumption efficiency of appliances hooked up to outlets). The President should extend existing tax breaks to entice Americans to buy these products. The benefits are both national and individual.
Individually, if your home uses less energy and heat to maintain your current standard of living, your monthly energy bills go down. The microeconomic effect.
Nationally, if all of our homes and business use less energy and heat, free-market principles dictates that prices should drop accordingly. The macroeconomic effect.
Detractors will claim that it costs too much money for the average American household to undergo the renovations necessary to achieve such cost savings. This is true and fixable. The Obama administration should renew its efforts to offer individual tax credits to any American homeowner or business that engages in such energy efficiency upgrades. The promise: you make the upgrades this year, we’ll give you a tax credit to cover the cost next April.
The fact that these energy efficiency upgrades can only be done by American labor is an added benefit — i.e. you aren’t going to hire an electrician from China to fly across the Pacific to rewire your house. Instead, you’ll hire a local electrician who will subsequently have more disposable income — income he can use to get his car fixed from the local mechanic, who in turn, can buy his kids more clothes for the school year, etc…
During the campaign we calculated that for every $1 spent on these energy efficiency upgrades, we’d generate $7 back out into the economy. And, if we apply these energy efficiency upgrades to our existing industrial infrastructure, we might be able to regain some of our manufacturing and industrial jobs by enticing business with our soon-to-be hyper-efficient, extremely-low-energy-cost factories.
Domestic energy production will require renewed efforts to develop the potential of the US wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, tidal, and even clean nuclear industries (there’s tremendous promise in liquid sodium-cooled reactors as well as thorium and liquid-fluoride reactors). Tax credits that reduce the startup costs associated with these industries will spur American business to invest in the technology — creating more jobs here at home.
The Obama administration must renew plans to establish a national smart electric grid in the United States. If you’ve ever been to a psychiatrist you’ve probably seen that metal ball thing that uses kinetic energy to bounce the balls on either end back and forth. In really simple terms, that’s how a national smart grid would function. Excess energy produced on the East coast would “surge” to the West coast to cover excess demand, reducing if not eliminating the now ubiquitous rolling blackouts and brownouts of the California summer. The current grid cannot surge excess energy across the United States, let alone to a regional grid next door. If we drew our political lines like our current energy grid, the United States would be three separate countries that look like this.
The holy grail of clean energy. The dirty little secret for all my fellow hybrid and electric car drivers is that although we we use less gas, we cause a whole lot of long term environmental destruction by relying on lithium-ion batteries. Tesla motors builds great cars, but their battery packs are essentially 20,000 little battery cells all connected together. Additionally, the electricity that these cars run on has to come from somewhere, and it the US, its likely coal — which we all know isn’t too clean.
Notice, I didn’t bring up climate change at all in this post and only just mentioned environmental impact. My motives in advocating clean energy are decidedly economic, and thus should be something all can get behind, regardless of opinions on climate change and man’s effect on it.
In terms of battery development (aka storage), we’re technologically our infancy and have a long way to go. But, if we get their first (China is currently spending five times more on clean energy development than on defense), if we can make the most efficient batteries on the planet, than the rest of the world will be buying our batteries. It’d be pretty nice to be the Saudi Arabia of clean energy.