Saturday, June 09, 2012

Transforming how we use energy - Part 3

I listened to a very educational talk by Maggie Koerth-Baker about our energy future. She wrote a book: "Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before it Conquers Us". It was a great talk and I took the liberty of distilling more of the salient points. This is part 3.

"Carbon capture and storage - you capture CO2 off of the smokestack and you compress it until it turns into a liquid. Then you pump it into a hole in the ground. It's less crazy than it sounds. They pick the holes based on the geology underneath them. In Alabama, there are coal bed seams that are buried deep underground and it's not where it would be easy to mine. These seams are trapping natural gas with the coal. When they pump the CO2 down, it's more attracted to the coal than the methane is and it takes the methane's place. The methane comes out and they're able to use it. They couldn't get to it before. The CO2 ends up locked to the coal the same way that natural gas has been locked to it for millions of years down there. But we get the natural gas to use. At another site in Illinois, they're working with porous sandstone that you would have the CO2 flow into. You keep it down there for a couple of hundred years and after that point it starts to turn into rock - it turns into more of this porous rock.

If you would have asked me two or three years ago what I thought about something like cap and trade or carbon tax, I wouldn't have thought it was worth the trouble. One of the conclusions I came to over the years was that some price on carbon is going to be necessary. I don't know necessarily the best way to do that. If you think about it, what we pay for fossil fuels is an artificial price. It's based on simple supply and demand. It doesn't take into account how valuable those fuels are to us. These are some of the most powerful fuels we've ever discovered on Earth. There's limited supplies. Maybe we should be thinking more about how we use them. When you start trying to make decisions about energy, it's not intuitive. Things that you think are good are not, and things that you think aren't good are. If you just had the amount of fossil fuels used for that product embedded in the cost of the product, the only decision you have to make is, which is cheaper? That's easier.

We need to start taking what I would say is a more healthy relationship with technology, to where we start thinking about everything we do, because even not doing anything has unintended consequences. Some of those unintended consequences are going to be things we don't like. But we are better off if we look at and choose our options, rather than just letting things happen to us. We're better off doing something. Better is better. Even if it's not perfect, any incremental movement towards better is a good thing."

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