Monday, November 22, 2004

Old King Coal

I attended a forum last week on energy sponsored by my local League of Women Voters chapter. While the energy conservation expert showed us nifty light bulbs and talked about how easy it is to save energy, the utility representative said that utilities are likely going to have to burn more coal in the future as natural gas supplies become tight. (Utilities gave up burning oil for electricity in the last energy crisis.)

This is just the kind of talk that gets me concerned about the future. If we're near peak production in natural gas in North America or at least unable to keep up with demand, you can see why coal is a natural fallback. We have plenty of it. Reserves are estimated at 250 years worth at current rates of consumption. But, if you think the global warming problem is bad now, it would get much worse if we go back to coal in a panic.

One positive note and something I've mentioned on this page before, wherever renewable energy sources are subsidized they are growing rapidly according to one panelist. The three biggest producers of solar energy in order are Japan, Germany and California. Germany is not exactly a sunny country. All three places have subsidized solar heavily. Subsidies are the only way we are going to make an energy transition successfully.

As I've tried to show in a previous post, Faith-based economics II: The case of oil's sudden scarcity, the marketplace may not give us much warning about pending permanent shortages of the energy sources we've come to rely on. And, if we wait until they do, it may be too late to make a transition without a lot of pain or maybe even to make one at all.

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