Americans have been focusing on energy reduction in this country for some time. In an upcoming article to be published in Design World, I will detail some of the impact of national energy policy on how electric motors should be built, and how they should be used. The main conclusion of the article from a technical perspective, is that the big energy savings come from control system solutions, not from incremental improvements in electric motors themselves, which the Department of Energy has spent a lot of money pursuing.
It is reasonable that the government concerns itself with how energy is used. But what is appropriate for implementing policy? Is it in the national interest to develop better washers and dryers? better refrigerators? better air conditioning systems? Or is this the domain of private enterprise? Business that is for profit and normally makes the investment in product development sometimes gets a hand from government.
The car industry has received huge amounts of money to develop electric and hybrid electric cars for the US market for over 2o years. Instead of delivering products, US carmakers have abdicated these niche products and today the major sales of hybrid cars are all Japanese. US car makers are behind the curve and they don’t appear to be making a lot of progress in the direction of becoming serious suppliers. The Chevy Volt might prove an exception if they can bring the car to production soon.
But energy policy is not exclusively about consumption, its about production. Governments, primarily state, have regulated the power companies to the point that electricity is relatively scarce in some markets. This forces the utility to pay people to use less power instead of investing in more capacity.
The same situation in the oil and gas industry. No new drilling, fewer refineries, mean scarce gasoline supplies and increasing dependence on foreign supplies.
What happened to atomic energy? The Europeans developed mini-reactors with cores the size of a waste paper basket. Check out Popular Science back issues for articles on “Pebble Bed” reactors or archived video files on PBS where American representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Comission sat in reactor control rooms while their German counterparts shut off coolant to the reactor. These reactors are totally safe because the nuclear fuel is encapsulated in high temperature ceramic. It can’t over heat and melt down, it can never go critical mass. Best of all, you can put them in the cities where you need power, no grid and no grid losses.
Let’s rethink energy policy and look for the strategies that increase supply, and decrease system risks (like grid failures) so that we can grow our industry and employment and a stable economy.