I would like to take a slight detour from the generally technical and economic posts. The underlying issue to many of the challenges that we face in energy and technology has to do with how we make decisions as individuals, companies and as a culture.
I submit that the current “energy crisis” is largely self inflicted. Electric power utilities have not been permitted to build new capacity for 30 years. Any surprise that we have shortages? Most of the commentary has to do with environmental studies that prevent the permits to be authorized.
Gasoline prices? The same thing. We have all the oil and gas we need, we just can’t get permission from the regulatory agencies to go after it. And refineries are in the same situation. The management of the oil and gas companies decided years ago that it would be cheaper to simply bring gasoline over from the Middle East instead of making it here. Fine. But that strategy can only be used temporarily, as we have found out. Except now we can’t build any new capacity.
Nuclear energy has advanced substantially in the form of pebble bed reactors which are thermally stable even when the coolant is shut off and cannot go critical mass because the nuclear material is insulated in ceramic. Wave reactors are being demonstrated whose cores make the nuclear fuel inert, no disposal problem. But we’ve spent decades making atomic energy “unacceptable”. So there it would seem unlikely that we’ll see and solutions without a major shift in the political system.
So who’s fault it is anyway? I don’t know. There’s enough blame to go around.
Is there any scenario where decision making doesn’t turn into a political process? In a democracy, a group of people can vote on something, be in agreement and be factually incorrect. If we all vote that there is no gravity, does it make any difference? It doesn’t matter how much factual information is presented, if the group controlling the decision making process chooses to ignore it.
Similarly the automobile industry has chosen for many years not to make high mileage cars. This has been going on for years and Americans have had enough. It can be part of a decision making process that has been corrupted or a conscious decision to ignore the market information that exists.
So the mis-management of major corporations can follow a similar path. If senior management chooses to ignore market data, or use it’s authority for personal gain, you can get some very ugly results. Like Enrom amd others. Is this a failure of Capitalism as the Michael Moore types would have us believe. I don’t think so.
It’s a failure of human beings. It’s an ethical failure in some cases. And it’s also a failure of the decision making processes. So many times we get caught in eliminating choices that we fail to apply the most important premise; that a solution has to be found. We have to have more electricity, for example, so let’s explore a bunch of options and what their impact will be. And let’s try to make the best decision that insures that the goal of increased electricity at the best cost.
This changes the outcome so that goals can be met instead of paralyzing us with inaction that stalls our economy and short changes everyone.