Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ideas For Change: Establish An Alternative Energy Infrastructure

What ideas have you submitted so far?


My first:

Establish an Alternative Energy Infrastructure

The lack of an infrastructure has been used for several years as an excuse by the auto industry for not building the automobiles of the future. At the same time, the oil industry, and fuel vendors (gas stations) have also been reluctant to move in the direction of alternative energy… they see it as not being in their interests…when in fact, they should be taking advantage of the opportunity to harness the new technologies available and establish themselves in new markets.

If they don’t want to be forward looking (and they have made clear that they don’t want to participate in this fundamental change) then the Government must act to either motivate these industries to change, or take the place of these industries where necessary…. Or as I will suggest… you must do BOTH.

The U.S. needs a comprehensive plan to make the Country less dependent on foreign oil (I should point out that this means oil outside of North America… I don’t necessarily include Canada and Mexico as foreign when it comes to energy…. and we should strengthen the energy partnerships with these two Countries). We must eventually encourage Canada and Mexico to move towards alternatives as well.

The Obama Administration should establish a Secretary of Science and Technology (long overdue) who would coordinate this fundamental change. This Cabinet level position (or at least Sr. Advisor post) would coordinate planning between Agriculture, Department of Energy… Department of Transportation, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, and would oversee the national transition to alternative energy and eventual energy independence. In addition he/she should push for new high speed rail. This person would also have oversight over NASA, and would work to put America back on top when it comes to innovation in science and technology. The transition to alternative energy should be treated with the same urgency as the Manhattan Project, the creation of the first railroad lines, or the building of the Interstate Highway system.

There are a few basic steps that the new government should take from the outset.

1. Establish a Semi-private Quasi governmental organization (like the Governments Corporation for Public Broadcasting) that would be responsible for all things related to R&D for Energy Independence. It could be called “The Corporation for Energy Independence”…or whatever is most appropriate. The title is not important. The important thing would be its mission. Some of the responsibilities of this new entity would be the following (but not limited to):

A. The main mission would be to act as the Governments own Research and Development entity on Alternative energy.

B. This organization would help spur innovation in private industry by acting as competition. The government could either award grants or contracts to private companies or to this new Government backed corporation. This corporation would have its own research facilities, scientists, factories, etc. It would also itself be a source for creating jobs (just like the folks that worked on the Manhattan project).

C. The government, either on its own, or through the corporation, could hold open competitions for the best technologies or ideas. As reward, individuals and companies would get fast tracked for patents, and could receive grant money or government contracts .

D. This corporation could build a limited number of automobiles….as competition to American car companies. It could build enough cars (a few thousand or so) to allow it to be an incubator for developing the cars of the future that run on Hydrogen, ethanol, Natural gas. There should really be a focus on Hydrogen technology… if harnessed…. It holds the most promise. Existing efforts seem to be focused on hybrids, and electric plug-ins… both rely on traditional fossil fuels (directly or indirectly) for their power…. Though in the short term (10 years) they are still good options. But hybrids still need gasoline.

Without such an entity to help spur innovation, private American industry will continue to move slow on this problem. The Government has to step in when & where it is clear that private industry will not act, or will not act appropriately. Private industry just doesn’t have the sense of urgency that is required for the kinds of changes that the Country needs.

2. Develop a comprehensive plan to establish an alternative energy infrastructure. This is essential. The groundwork for this has to be laid before the Country can really move forward full steam. One of the reasons that things are limping along, is because there is not enough of an infrastructure in place for the technology and energy of the future.

I believe there should be a 2 phased plan for building an alternative energy infrastructure for automobiles.

Phase 1

Choose 40 of the largest Metropolitan areas in the Country and pick 4 or 5 fuel stations in each. Provide grant money for those fuel stations to install Hydrogen pumps, Ethanol pumps, and electric plug-in boxes. This grant money could be provided by holding a lottery….or through some other means. The Country should also come up with a Universal symbol for Alternative fuel Stations or Stations taking part in this program (just as there is the “H” symbol for Hospital… there should be an officially recognized symbol for alternative energy stations…at least during this 10-15 year period of transition). This will make it easier for drivers of alternative energy vehicles to know where they can fill up or recharge.

Why do this? Why only a few stations in each metro area? Well, the idea here is not to Socialize the entire industry. The idea behind this would be for the Government to act as a seeder…to create new markets and new competition. Once there are 4 or 5 gas stations in a community that can serve alternative energy vehicles, what do you think the other gas station vendors will want to have for their stations? In order to stay competitive with the guy down the Street…. Jo Blow Gas station operator will be compelled to install Hydrogen refueling machines and ethanol pumps…and plug-in boxes at his station. Within 5 years, you’ve just transformed our system of refueling cars. And car manufacturers will no longer be able to use the excuse that Americans don’t want these new vehicles because there will be no place to fill-up.

The Government could also provide coupons for gas station operators (who didn’t get the initial grant money) to reduce the price of installing new equipment.

Phase 2

Do the same in rural areas, particularly putting these stations along all the major interstates in the Country. There should also be plug-in boxes for electric cars at highway rest stops…where drivers could use their credit or debit cards to recharge their vehicles while they wait, rest, etc. These boxes should be available in big cities as well. This kind of infrastructure must become a normal part of the American landscape… like it already is in parts of Europe.

Major plus: Creating these new markets will help create jobs…. Someone has to build the new pumps for the gas stations, someone has to build the electric car rechargers, someone has to install them….someone has to repair them, etc.

3. We must harness solar energy. Government buildings should use solar power where possible, but that’s not going to be enough to transform the Country. You must come up with a viable and effective plan to get private industry to buy into this transition to alternative energy.

To do this, the Government will have to do the following:

A. Find a way to build solar panels at lower costs. At the moment, solar panels aren’t seen as a cost effective option for most Americans. Finding a way to do this, either through better technology or through better manufacturing methods, could be one of the major missions of the new Federal Government created corporation that I mentioned in #1 above.

B. Provide Tax incentives or other incentives for Private corporations to install solar panels.

C. Provide grant money for new Startup companies and existing companies in this particular industry to help spur R&D and manufacturing, and eventually a cheaper product for the consumer.

D. Provide incentives for homeowners to install solar panels. A Tax break might be nice. Also, the Government could provide a coupon system to lower the price for those Americans who may have more moderate incomes.

E. Reduce labor costs for the installation of these panels. Either create a DIY system, or lower labor costs through some other means. Labor often accounts for half or most of the costs for this type of work.

F. Don’t forget about apartment buildings. Provide a law that would require landlords and building managers to allow (when and where possible) tenants to use solar panel technology. A large number of Americans are apartment dwellers.

4. Establish a high speed rail system. The U.S. is a generation or more behind other nations, even developing Countries, when it comes to high speed rail. Even the limited high speed rail that we do have (the Acela) is old and inadequate. It is based on technology that is a couple of generations behind systems used elsewhere. It is time for bold new thinking on this issue.

While in college I did some research on problems with Amtrak, and what I found to be one of the main stumbling blocks in this Country is the lack of dedicated track. Currently, U.S. passenger rail has to take a back seat to Commercial rail cars… this is because most of the existing track is owned by the Commercial rail industry. So what is needed is new track. This is probably for the best anyway, since many of the high speed rail technologies depend on newer, non traditional tracks….such as magnet rail and others.

In Europe and Asia, Commercial rail and passenger rail are for the most part kept separate… particularly as it relates to track usage. This improves safety (not as many accidents between passenger trains and commercial trains) and it also improves efficiency, since there are much fewer delays with track that is dedicated to…(owned and controlled by) the passenger rail industry as opposed to the commercial industry. Passenger cars in these Countries don’t have to stop as often to provide right-of-way to Commercial trains, and when there is damaged track… they don’t have to wait for another industry to decide when and how repairs are made.

And again, laying new kinds of track would create thousands of new jobs.

5. Establish a strategic fuel reserve. We have a strategic oil reserve….but the nation really needs a strategic fuel reserve that could provide extra fuel to regions of the Country in times of emergency.

The oil reserve is not that effective because the U.S. has inadequate refinery capacity. The U.S. has not built a new major refinery in about 30 years. Also, many of our biggest refineries are in vulnerable locations like the Gulf of Mexico, where Terrorists could strike or where Hurricanes could knock out production for weeks. The result is the scene this Summer in the Southeast where drivers could not get gas for weeks…. Or the scenes in 2005 in Texas and Louisiana where drivers had to abandon their cars by the sides of the highways because they could not get fuel during evacuations.


I didn't want to include my ideas on my own blog...but I ran out of room on the change website. Will they adopt any of my ideas? Not likely... this probably won't even be read by a policymaker... but I can say I at least submitted something. I actually came up with most of the above ideas over a year ago...


Anonymous said...

people and companies involvedin building electric vehicle recharging infrastructure. For a comprehensive look at what's happening see http://EVtransPortal.com/cerip.html

Anonymous said...

I got a grant from the federal government for $12,000 in financial aid, see how you can get one also at