We try hard not to be too provocative here at Schaper Energy — it’s just not our style. Although, with a topic like energy we have to get people’s attention.
There is more than enough politically-motivated discourse to go around on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. What is truly lacking is rational dialogue about the physical realities of energy – how it is generated, transported, and consumed – that should drive our policy in the U.S.
It is easy to be a passive advocate for renewable energy and renewable energy policy. The aspiration to power our lives by harnessing natural elements like sunlight and wind instills a hopefulness that is almost contagious. And yet, these technologies are not yet pervasive enough for some who prefer to see a complete energy overhaul, abandoning systems that drive us forward today while wagering that others could quickly take their place.
For decades, the public and private sectors have toiled away studying esoteric energy disciplines, exploring new ways to power our massive and growing economy: Concentrating Solar Power, Tidal Ocean Power, Aviation Biofuels, Hydrogen Fuel Cells, and Flywheel Energy Storage represent only a few of the niche fields among a sea of hopeful technologies.
The truth is that while there remains great potential in some of these energy pathways, many share common traits when analyzed objectively today: they may be physically impractical to implement, too costly to warrant investment, produce a negative return on energy invested or some combination of the three. I say this not to suggest they are without promise – however, many would have you believe these technologies can be ‘willed’ to ubiquity as though it were a new version of the iPhone.
Still other, more commonplace renewable technologies like wind energy, solar photovoltaic power or biodiesel now exist at scale in the world thanks to the aid of improvements in cost, technology and, in certain instances, significant social and fiscal support. We have even reached the point where a select few of these technologies can compete economically with their non-renewable counterparts (Lazard LCOE study) – the holy grail, so to speak, of renewable energy.
Even with all of these developments, it is important to critically assess both the positive and negative externalities associated with each energy source; and to do so in a way that eschews bias for one’s own industry. Of particular concern is the constant grating dialogue between fossil fuel and renewables advocates, which has devolved into an unproductive and toxic pit of falsehoods wrought with narrative spin. Neither side presents cogent arguments and when the shouting (or typing) subsides, each retreats back to their favored social media silos for self-reinforcement.
It is going to take more than pictures of icy wind turbines or pithy climate platitudes to cause public opinion to coalesce around a comprehensive, sensible energy solution in this country.
It will take examining all forms of energy with an open mind and a critical eye to address benefits and shortfalls of each. We must continually challenge our own preconceived notions and biases, for instance with respect to fuels like nuclear energy or coal power which can support entire populations reliably, while searching for practical solutions to climate objectives that keep energy costs low, flows reliable and economic growth sustained.
We owe each other the respect of acknowledging basic physical principles and working together to find the most reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible way to power our country. In our next series of posts, we will discuss more specifics about the impracticalities and real-world constraints that Green New Deal advocates are not considering, as well as the true carbon-neutral energy source that almost no one is talking about.
Andrew Schaper is a professional engineer and principal of Schaper Energy Consulting. His practice focuses on advisory in oil and gas, sustainable energy and carbon strategies.