Monday, January 14, 2008

Sense on energy

Forbes' Jerry Flint writes about energy policy "I'm breaking your heart ... Achieving 35 mpg by 2020 is a nice rallying cry. But it won't happen." Excerpted below.
Solving the energy problem is easy if you pay no attention to
the laws of physics. That's the wonder of our Congress. To pass is easy; to
achieve is something else. This is where I break your green heart. You know that
Congress passed a law ordering all cars and trucks to average 35 miles to the
gallon by 2020. It won't happen.

Another part of that law mandates the production of 36
billion gallons a year of biofuels by 2022. That won't happen

It's not that automakers from Detroit to Tokyo to
Stuttgart are just mean and don't want to do it. They don't know how. Of course,
they don't dare complain or criticize the law. We must all be green and happy
about it.

But there's just no way anyone subject to the laws of
physics and automobile engineering can get a 5,000-pound pickup, or any
mass-produced, reasonably priced sport utility near that weight, up to

Today the 2008 Honda Accord (weighing 3,570 pounds) has
poorer fuel economy than last year's model, and Honda is Mr. Green. That new
hybrid system on the General Motors Chevy Tahoe SUV probably adds $10,000 to the
cost (and 400 pounds) and gets it up to 20mpg. Yes, the fuel economy increase is
terrific, near 50%--but we're up to only 20mpg on the four-wheeler, and that's
nowhere near 35.

The best way to increase fuel economy (and reduce
greenhouse gases, too) is to reduce the weight and engine size of the vehicles.
Congress could pass a law ordering that no car weigh more than 1,750 pounds (a
Toyota Camry is in the 3,200-pound range), no truck weigh more than 2,500 pounds
and no engine run more than 75 horsepower. Most Americans couldn't fit in such
cars, but they would average 35mpg.

We could also lower the speed limit to 40 miles per hour
nationally. That would do it, too, since engines would shrink, and air
resistance is a lot lower at 40 than at 60.

Or we could impose a $5-a-gallon gasoline tax, which would
push everyone into those tiny 35mpg cars--and have the advantage of pushing
every congressman who voted for it out of office.

If all else fails, maybe we resort to the
figures-don't-lie-but-liars-can-figure rule. Measure fuel economy not by what an
engine does, but what it could do. For example, imagine that every engine were
tuned to take E-85--meaning 85% ethyl alcohol and 15% gasoline--and that a car
gets 21 miles to the gallon on E-85. But if we count only the gasoline in E-85,
than it gets 140 miles per gallon of gasoline. That's one way to boost an

None of these things will happen, because Congress prefers
something for nothing, or something that doesn't show up directly as a
consumer's fee.

In a better world, energy policy makers would read Peter Huber and Mark Mills' The Bottomless Well: The twilight of fuel, the virtue of waste, and why we will never run out of energy.

It is all about applying human ingenuity to "purify" fuel, making denser and more useful energy from ubiquitous energy. The many "energy pyramid" illustrations through the book are data that help to make the point. And the book is delightfully well written.

Easy talk about energy and "running out of energy" are stunningly ignorant -- and beget awful "energy policy."