# YOU!: Fix the US Energy Crisis

by russ_watters
Tags: crisis, energy
PF Gold
P: 2,234
 Quote by Topher925 Why can't we just invent a perpetual motion machine that makes more energy than it consumes. If it were possible to wave a magic wand and instantly create an entirely new eco-friendly infrastructure out of no where that was just as economical as gasoline then there wouldn't be an energy crisis in the first place.
Why is the federal government responsible for creating a new infrastructure? It seems to me that the market will find alternative options when petroleum is less lucrative...
P: 1,672
 Quote by Mech_Engineer Why is the federal government responsible for creating a new infrastructure? It seems to me that the market will find alternative options when petroleum is less lucrative...
Well, it most certainly isn't. But it is advantageous to accelerate the development of such infrastructure in order to create a knowledge base and manufacturing in this country instead of others.
PF Gold
P: 1,370
 Quote by Mech_Engineer Why is the federal government responsible for creating a new infrastructure?
Because to build pyramids, aka really cool big stuff, it takes a nation.
 It seems to me that the market will find alternative options when petroleum is less lucrative...
I think we'd still be waiting on interstate highways, sewers, and water works, if we had waited on the market.

I mean really, how do you market; "If you invest in this, your poop will be processed, and your entire country will not stink, like, um, poop."

The market is great for some stuff. But, um, weird stuff that nobody wants to buy into, much less talk about?

Leave that to the Feds. They're really good great at that.

 P: 326 $5 trillion to fund fusion US is too stupid to do this though :D Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 2,234  Quote by Topher925 Well, it most certainly isn't. But it is advantageous to accelerate the development of such infrastructure in order to create a knowledge base and manufacturing in this country instead of others. Which forms of alternative energy specifically do you think need large amounts of funding from the government to make progress? It seems to me that the limitation these days isn't funding, but I could be wrong.  Quote by OmCheeto Because to build pyramids, aka really cool big stuff, it takes a nation. I don't think the problem is funding or size, it's just that fundamental technology hasn't been found that can rival the specific stored energy of petroleum products. If electric cars existed that had a 300 mile range and charged in a few minutes, gas wouldn't stand a chance...  Quote by OmCheeto I think we'd still be waiting on interstate highways, sewers, and water works, if we had waited on the market. I think you're wrong about that. How do you explain privately owned utility companies? If there's a need and lots of people are willing to pay for it, someone will find a way to fill that need.  Quote by OmCheeto I mean really, how do you market; "If you invest in this, your poop will be processed, and your entire country will not stink, like, um, poop." The market is great for some stuff. But, um, weird stuff that nobody wants to buy into, much less talk about? Leave that to the Feds. They're really good great at that. If no one wants to invest in it, it could be it's not that great of an idea to begin with... However as it is, there is a LOT of private investing happening in alternative energy research. I don't like that you think it's a good thing that the federal government is great at investing in things no one else will; in fact it seems to me this is one of the fundamental problems with the federal gov't- they are rarely subject to cost-benefit analysis.  Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 2,234 By the way- developing alternative energy technology isn't "developing infrastructure," and rightfully so. I shudder at the thought of only government-owned charging stations for my car...  P: 12 The solution is not political, its physical. The secret is to be able to store and transport existing clean energy (Solar, Wind, Hydroelectric, etc.) in a sustainable format. Not particularly difficult; the same problem arises out of the breeder reactor program that is supposed to come on-line in around 2030 and solutions have been proposed and alternates have been created.  P: 1,117 It's such a joke to listen to people talk about investing in new infrastructure to facilitate conservation. Bicycles are much smaller than cars so exponentially more bicycle traffic can fit on existing roads if significant numbers of drivers converted their lifestyles to biking and walking. The problem isn't the infrastructure, it's the unwillingness of individuals to change their everyday behaviors. Then, of course, you get into all the institutional barriers like why people can't just change jobs to one closer to their house or why employers and employees can't restructure in a way that has them close enough to each other to pedestrian-commute. It is because no one wants to consider pursuing these kinds of solutions that all the talk about expensive government solutions emerges. Basically the expense and the difficulty of achieving political consensus work as barriers to prevent anyone from having to change. They voted for change and what they got was insulation against having to change, which may have been what they secretly wanted all along. PF Gold P: 1,370 Quote by Mech_Engineer  Quote by OmCheeto I think we'd still be waiting on interstate highways, sewers, and water works, if we had waited on the market. I think you're wrong about that. How do you explain privately owned utility companies? If there's a need and lots of people are willing to pay for it, someone will find a way to fill that need. Frankly, I don't know how utility companies became private, nor do I care. I don't really see how it relates to infrastructure. I was listening to the radio the other day, and a young gentleman put it in much better words than I could. Imagine if everything were private. Gas, electricity, sewer, roads. Imagine 20 different companies, from the above 4 fields, all after your money. You'd have 20 separate sewer lines running to your house, 20 separate gas lines, 20 electric lines. And how are you going to fit 20 roads in the space of one road? Stack them? All so we can chose the cheapest, or most reliable, or the least rat infested? NO! We don't need to privatize the whole world to make it a better place, given your apparent assumption that privatization will solve everything.  If no one wants to invest in it, it could be it's not that great of an idea to begin with... However as it is, there is a LOT of private investing happening in alternative energy research. There is also a LOT more public investing happening in alternative energy research. Unfortunately, it's public investing by other countries, competing against our "free" market companies. We can sit around with our thumbs you know where, waiting for our companies to do the right thing in the right way, while foreign companies are getting massive government subsidies, getting ready to ramp up production in, you guessed it, alternative energy. hmmm.... Guess who loses? We do. There are only a few basic concepts in economics that I've ever thought worthy of devoting brain cells to, one of them is the theory of the economies of scale. If the YenWonYuan Corporation is 100 times bigger than Oosa Corporation, guess who's going to determine prices. Guess who's going to have the most jobs. Waiting around for market may have worked in the past, but we're not in the past anymore. And wagging your finger at the Chinese Government for being unfair by dumping billions into their upstart companies, is not going to make them stop. Just one example:  But A123 has another problem on its hands. A pair of giant lithium-ion battery makers -- Japan's Panasonic and Korea's Samsung -- has recently stated plans to radically boost spending to retain industry dominance. They also plan to cut prices to pursue market share, and that's a battle that relatively tiny A123 is ill-equipped to fight. So even as the company looks set to sharply boost sales in 2011 and 2012, gross profit margins may be so low that the company's operating losses fail to shrink. The key for a turnaround in this stock is a path to eventual profits. And until investors can see that path, shares are unlikely to rebound much. And they didn't even mention the Chinese companies. Ugh! And I never thought I'd quote Bill Gates:  http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20007344-54.html Invest a minimum of$16 billion a year on clean energy. The group said that the U.S. currently spends $16 billion overseas on foreign fuel every 16 days. But he's right. While we're sitting here, hundreds of billions of dollars are being flushed overseas.  I don't like that you think it's a good thing that the federal government is great at investing in things no one else will; in fact it seems to me this is one of the fundamental problems with the federal gov't- they are rarely subject to cost-benefit analysis. Well, I can somewhat agree with you here. I had a post deleted quite a few months ago. It was fairly extensive, and consumed probably 12 hours of research. It was a severe criticism of a pair of academics who, based on a government installed solar project, determined that solar energy was not financially viable. I'll not go into the details, except that yes, the project was incredibly expensive, and would never provide a return on investment. PF Gold P: 1,370  Quote by brainstorm It's such a joke to listen to people talk about investing in new infrastructure to facilitate conservation. Bicycles are much smaller than cars so exponentially more bicycle traffic can fit on existing roads if significant numbers of drivers converted their lifestyles to biking and walking. The problem isn't the infrastructure, it's the unwillingness of individuals to change their everyday behaviors. Then, of course, you get into all the institutional barriers like why people can't just change jobs to one closer to their house or why employers and employees can't restructure in a way that has them close enough to each other to pedestrian-commute. It is because no one wants to consider pursuing these kinds of solutions that all the talk about expensive government solutions emerges. Basically the expense and the difficulty of achieving political consensus work as barriers to prevent anyone from having to change. They voted for change and what they got was insulation against having to change, which may have been what they secretly wanted all along. I disagree, but only because I live ~12 miles from work, in an environment that is not conducive to bicycling 10 months out of the year. And relocate? Do you want everyone to sell and buy a different house every time they get a new job? Or are you talking only about renters? I know that we all bring our preconditioned prejudices to these conversations, but a solution to the energy crisis needs to include solutions for everyone, not just me and you. Personally, I'm pursuing an enclosed vehicle that gets 300 mpg* equivalent, with a range of around 30 miles. And that doesn't cost$40,000. I mean really, that's twice what I paid for my house!

*Yes. I know. That's 100 watt hours per mile. But I'm a firm believer in the Kobayashi Maru: When it's impossible to win, cheat. :)
 P: 12 This can be a very negative board. Wouldn't it work better, if in the brainstorming phase, if we focussed on creating ideas and only offered objections when the original poster was asking for that kind of feedback. There is enough negativity in experimental results that speculative negativity is just excess. Government projects have been very successful (Interstate Highway System) and so have private ventures (The Pennsylvania Railroad). Is this really the forum to determine the political answers? Shouldn't we explore the scientific means?
PF Gold
P: 1,370
 Quote by melch This can be a very negative board. Wouldn't it work better, if in the brainstorming phase, if we focussed on creating ideas and only offered objections when the original poster was asking for that kind of feedback. There is enough negativity in experimental results that speculative negativity is just excess. Government projects have been very successful (Interstate Highway System) and so have private ventures (The Pennsylvania Railroad). Is this really the forum to determine the political answers? Shouldn't we explore the scientific means?
Scientific means? Those are easy. It's everything outside of the engineering field that gets sticky. Going through the last 41 pages of this thread will probably provide you with the "engineering" answer to the original order: "YOU! Fix the US Energy Crisis"

To continue, in response to our seemingly off topic discussion of the last few days:

I mentioned "Systems Science" a while back and was flabbergasted at the response. (I didn't understand a word, and hence, I felt I wasn't qualified to say a word about the topic to which I was referring to. "Could Aperion be a systems scientist?")

Systems Science, in my little mind, related only to the simple idea that everything is interconnected. Nothing can be ignored. Everything must be discussed. I was first exposed to it in the movie Mindwalk, by Bernt and Fridjof Kapra. A movie about, well, it's very, very, boring. You'll have to watch it for yourself. I've a Vhs copy that I nearly wore out.

Many problems involve so many aspects(social, political, scientific, economic), that you cannot help but to break the rules if you want to really solve a problem.
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P: 3,021
 Quote by brainstorm It's such a joke to listen to people talk about investing in new infrastructure to facilitate conservation. Bicycles are much smaller than cars so exponentially more bicycle traffic can fit on existing roads if significant numbers of drivers converted their lifestyles to biking and walking. The problem isn't the infrastructure, it's the unwillingness of individuals to change their everyday behaviors. Then, of course, you get into all the institutional barriers like why people can't just change jobs to one closer to their house or why employers and employees can't restructure in a way that has them close enough to each other to pedestrian-commute. It is because no one wants to consider pursuing these kinds of solutions that all the talk about expensive government solutions emerges. Basically the expense and the difficulty of achieving political consensus work as barriers to prevent anyone from having to change. They voted for change and what they got was insulation against having to change, which may have been what they secretly wanted all along.
Bicycle solutions are not pursued because they are not equivalent to motor vehicles across dozens of different obvious metrics, regardless of 'lifestyle' choice.
P: 1,117
 Quote by OmCheeto I disagree, but only because I live ~12 miles from work, in an environment that is not conducive to bicycling 10 months out of the year. And relocate? Do you want everyone to sell and buy a different house every time they get a new job? Or are you talking only about renters?
Well, considering that the real estate market is overflowing with toxic properties and a glut of excess housing, it really doesn't seem like it would take much of an infrastructural investment to coordinate people being able to change residences to live closer to work.

 I know that we all bring our preconditioned prejudices to these conversations, but a solution to the energy crisis needs to include solutions for everyone, not just me and you.
Ultimately the solution for the vast majority of people is going to have to involve living most of their lives in a relatively dense urban environment. The question is how to organize the economy in such a way that facilitates sustainable lifestyles in relatively dense cities.

 Personally, I'm pursuing an enclosed vehicle that gets 300 mpg* equivalent, with a range of around 30 miles. And that doesn't cost $40,000. I mean really, that's twice what I paid for my house! You paid$20k for a house? What a bargain. Enclosed vehicles the size of bicycles are an ideal solution because they get good energy-distance efficiency and they are small enough to allow more vehicles on existing roads without widening them. The problem is that they're just not going to supplant large heavy vehicles overnight. So it makes far more sense to implement mobility-culture reforms that help people transition to pedestrian/bicycle living for the majority of their life activities and reserve personal car transit for weekend getaways once in a while and large-item purchases.

 *Yes. I know. That's 100 watt hours per mile. But I'm a firm believer in the Kobayashi Maru: When it's impossible to win, cheat. :)
I think an average person generates about 40 watts and can bike @15mph, so if you divide 40 watt-hours by 15, you get a little less than 3 watt-hours per mile. Beam me up, Scotty.

 Quote by mheslep Bicycle solutions are not pursued because they are not equivalent to motor vehicles across dozens of different obvious metrics, regardless of 'lifestyle' choice.
It's always the same thing whenever I mention bicycling or walking as a solution to energy crisis. People say that bikes are inferior to cars or they live too far from work, etc. But all those obstacles are not necessity but luxury. If there was absolutely no gasoline available, you would quickly see people adjust their lifestyle patterns to walk or bike. They might complain that biking and walking are inferior to driving "across dozens of different obvious metrics," but they would do it because they would have no choice. Then, they would continue to innovate the local economy to make living within a small geographic area increasingly more pleasant.

And guess what, doing this would require relatively little if any government investment in infrastructure or otherwise. People would just reform existing infrastructure and building usage to accommodate large-scale reliance on human-powered transit.
P: 675
 Quote by brainstorm say that bikes are inferior to cars or they live too far from work, etc. But all those obstacles are not necessity but luxury. If there was absolutely no gasoline available, you would quickly see people adjust their lifestyle patterns to walk or bike. They might complain that biking and walking are inferior to driving "across dozens of different obvious metrics," but they would do it because they would have no choice. Then, they would continue to innovate the local economy to make living within a small geographic area increasingly more pleasant. And guess what, doing this would require relatively little if any government investment in infrastructure or otherwise. People would just reform existing infrastructure and building usage to accommodate large-scale reliance on human-powered transit.
Indeed, I might consider biking when roads are sufficiently safe (free of cars) and there are locker rooms in every office buildings/workplace. But it is an immense undertaking to reform existing infrastructure, and if a politician were to propose this today, he would not get any votes.

I agree with you though. Humans can adapt, but for the moment, they (we) don't feel sufficiently threatened to make such radical changes in lifestyle.
P: 1,117
 Quote by Dr Lots-o'watts Indeed, I might consider biking when roads are sufficiently safe (free of cars) and there are locker rooms in every office buildings/workplace. But it is an immense undertaking to reform existing infrastructure, and if a politician were to propose this today, he would not get any votes. I agree with you though. Humans can adapt, but for the moment, they (we) don't feel sufficiently threatened to make such radical changes in lifestyle.
Which is why this thread is somewhat superfluous. We talk about fixing the 'energy crisis' but in reality public denial of the crisis is the driving political-economic sentiment. If people were serious about reducing energy-usage, the kinds of reforms/restructuring you mention would not seem like such an immense undertaking.

What is more difficult, building locker-rooms or other bicycle-commuting friendly facilities in areas where people work or building entire rail systems to expand public transit, as has been promoted as a reasonable public investment? Clearly building rail-systems, electric vehicles and charging stations, etc. requires more investment but people just think that the investment will stimulate the economy, which will in turn sustain the high energy-consumption economy that makes them comfortable.

What is also needed are technologically simple solutions for climate-control systems. Roofs can be used to generate solar heat, for example, but some kind of cheap effective method for enclosing them with transparent material is needed. Glassing in a roof is expensive but if some kind of plastic was available that would resist deforming due to the heat, this plastic could be stretched over entire roofs to create a heat-capture space and indoor air could be circulated through the enclosed roof area (probably some air-filtering would be a good idea with this).

As for cooling in hot months, fans provide air movement that make the indoor air feel cooler than static air at the same temperature. Fans use less energy than air-conditioning.

The problem is that all such conservation measures require humans to adjust their comfort levels, which requires they endure temporary discomfort during the adjustment period. Ultimately it is avoidance of discomfort that is driving most energy-waste. It is ironic that we try to come up with elaborate technical/engineering solutions for a problem that is essentially psychological and social-cultural.
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 Quote by brainstorm It's always the same thing whenever I mention bicycling or walking as a solution to energy crisis. People say that bikes are inferior to cars or they live too far from work, etc. But all those obstacles are not necessity but luxury. If there was absolutely no gasoline available, you would quickly see people adjust their lifestyle patterns to walk or bike. They might complain that biking and walking are inferior to driving "across dozens of different obvious metrics," but they would do it because they would have no choice. Then, they would continue to innovate the local economy to make living within a small geographic area increasingly more pleasant. And guess what, doing this would require relatively little if any government investment in infrastructure or otherwise. People would just reform existing infrastructure and building usage to accommodate large-scale reliance on human-powered transit.
That is all hand waiving, which I note you do while considering the assumptions about the status quo 'such a joke'. You are essentially calling for a back to nature, log cabins and grow your own food plan. Do you really imagine the world hasn't heard endless (and thoughtless) calls of this kind since the beginning of the industrial age? If you want to add to the conversation, take the time to show in at least one (challenging) detail how migrating a modern society mostly to bicycle transportation could work for 300 million people of men, women and children, the sick and the infirm, spread out over a continent 3000 miles across.
P: 1,117
 Quote by mheslep That is all hand waiving, which I note you do while considering the assumptions about the status quo 'such a joke'. You are essentially calling for a back to nature, log cabins and grow your own food plan. Do you really imagine the world hasn't heard endless (and thoughtless) calls of this kind since the beginning of the industrial age? If you want to add to the conversation, take the time to show in at least one (challenging) detail how migrating a modern society mostly to bicycle transportation could work for 300 million people of men, women and children, the sick and the infirm, spread out over a continent 3000 miles across.
It's also "such a joke" that you make reference to the "sick and infirm," as if the difficulty these people have with human-powered mobility should automatically exclude healthy, able-bodied people from carrying their own healthy bodies around. Really the size of the continent or the number of people you include in the population doesn't matter. How many people got around without cars in China until very recently? Were they able to do that because of the small size of the physical geography or population?

I'm not saying that no one should ever use a car or public transit for anything. I'm not saying anyone has to live in a log cabin or grow their own food, although I think that would be good for other reasons. Mainly I'm pointing out that because there is resistance to considering energy-conservation strategies that involve culture/lifestyle reforms/changes, people make this energy-crisis more complex and expensive than it really needs to be. The simple fact is that there are numerous ways to modify the way you live and work that reduce energy-consumption. The need for everyone to conform to the same lifestyle is not a valid 'need' at all but a luxury that people have grown accustomed to. Just because your neighbor has air-conditioning, drives a car everywhere all the time, and keeps his voluminous house warm enough in the winter to lounge around in his underwear doesn't mean that everyone else has to aspire to that as well, does it?

Btw, it is so typical to be attacked like this whenever suggesting simple conservation reforms. Could it be that such attacks are the reason energy-conservation never gets off the ground to start with?

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