Many ideas, beliefs, facts, fictions, opinions, processes, practices, policies, resources, technologies, laws and regulations are intertwined in the complex balance between the energy sourcing, energy use and sustainability and between the needs and wants of political forces, special interests, national security, economists, investors, environmentalists, religious groups, healthcare organizations, society at large and each of us individually. Energy policies affect individuals, industries, businesses, governments, institutions, power and energy systems and our world of transportation. This is the puzzle we must solve together.
Energy policy decisions and supporting regulations need to balance the ability of businesses to operate in a free market with the needs of society. A key role of government is to arbitrate where and when the needs of society outweigh those of a specific business or market. In an ideal democracy, complex choices made should reflect the will of an informed majority or at least an informed electorate. Policy decisions must be based on fair and balanced data, measures and interpretation, i.e. knowledge. To the extent such knowledge can provide values to reasonably compare alternative energy strategies, society’s needs might be optimized.
If complexity is an obstacle to crucial change, knowledge provides the gateway and the path from the status quo towards informed planning and decision-making for the clean energy future. Much success has already been achieved as public awareness has and continues to grow and policies and practices are evolving in a logical direction, but much more change is needed. Contributing to this knowledge base is the primary goal of Green Ways 2Go. The following ideas highlight the integrated positions needed for a comprehensive understanding of the needs of change:
- World leaders and policy makers must study and comprehend, then objectively communicate to their constituents the true relationships between the source of the energy applied and the socioeconomic results. Policies and actions should reflect this knowledge. This includes the development of a valid and reliable way to determine fair value for all contributing influences, not some subset that might be used to further the interests of those who currently enjoy political influence.
- Decision-makings needs to be made on a level playing field basis, including value-based accountability for negative externalities, including climate change, pollution, and the costs to protect oil all over the world.
- US energy policies related to foreign energy sourcing have been evolving more rapidly since 9-11. Needed energy policy changes have been largely driven by national security, trade deficits and the extreme costs of military defense. Military expenditures have been justified in part by human rights and democratization ideologies, but the underlying driver is the need to protect oil supplies and supply lines plus the demonstrated willingness of terrorists to take dramatic actions to give us pause about utilizing Mideast oil. This national security outlook is combined with the recent energy boom for unconventional sources of oil and gas in North America (e.g. tar and shale sand oil and gas), allowing national security concerns to be reduced by producing fuel in North America instead of purchasing from foreign sources. By changing our transportation energy from foreign oil to more North American sources, this reduces our collective US risks; lowers our production costs and our trade imbalance associated with oil and can generate US jobs.
- US laws and regulations provide some level of needed environmental and sustainability However, these policies often take a back seat to special interest groups and may take the form of guidelines rather than enforceable laws. For those who recognize the seriousness of climate change and the influence of contributions from anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gas sources, the need to systematically reduce fossil fuel consumption in all usage categories is crucial. Many in the US policy chain are advising action be taken. According to the US Environmental Protecting Agency, “the anthropogenic emissions are the root cause of the increase in CO2 concentrations over the past century”. As stated in the EPA’s Climate Change Science Program (2007) “The cause of the recent increase in atmospheric CO2 is confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt”. This has recently been restated in a Federal Advisory Report in January 2013.[i] As long as the energy industry remains focused on carbon extraction, processing and distribution, we will continue to suffer the same socioeconomic penalties (negative externalities). If the energy industry changes its focus to more altruistically optimizing electron collection, storage, and distribution, rather than supporting one set of energy alternatives (fossil fuels), we can redirect the current path to a sustainable one.
- In contrast to some fossil fuel subsidies that are permanent, environmental subsidies are typically short in duration, creating a non-level playing field, in terms of investment attractiveness.
- The current power infrastructure in the US and many other countries continues to age. Every year more power plants are being retired. The global demand for energy is rising. As we move forward and need to expand, revamp or displace our power sources and transmission grids, better use of energy (conservation) and smart integration of renewable energy must be top priorities.
- Use of alternative transportation solutions such as electric vehicles will allow us to reduce our transportation costs while reducing green house gases (GHGs) and their influence on climate change and reducing other forms of pollution and their negative effects on people and the environment.
- To the extent we move from fossil fuel based to renewably sourced electrical power, transportation-originating emissions will be proportionately reduced for electrified transportation.
- To make electrification of vehicles economically sustainable requires initial stimulus from governments to jump-start these markets. Subsidy programs have been done successfully many times by the US and other governments- to assist capital-intense new ideas to be successfully launched, for those markets supporting the public interest. As Electric Vehicle (EV) markets, technologies and production methods mature, the cost effectiveness of EVs and the supporting infrastructure will improve and these markets expect to reach a market tipping point that allows non-subsidized competition with traditional internal combustion vehicles, with significant sustainability advantages.
- In today’s world, where the markets are not level, but instead advantages have been established for those who can afford to influence the policy makers, subsidies can accelerate the advancement of cleaner energy solutions on a more level playing field. Suggestions have been made that all subsidies be removed from all energy sectors and let the free market make the decisions. This might be a reasonable approach, if all the real costs (i.e. all externality costs and actual costs combined) were included in all energy markets. Until such time that the externalities are considered, use of subsidies to balance and stimulate the clean energy markets for the common good seems to be the best approach.
- Metrics for making decisions should be established that appropriately weigh the costs of externalities and the short and long-term value of energy alternatives. Like any process measure, the decision-making system needs to continuously evaluated and updated based on such measures.
- The changes in our electrical power energy sources and infrastructure from fossil fuel to renewable energy alternatives need bold transition plans to deal with the displacement of businesses and jobs. Some of this is being and will be managed by the free market, but governmental assistance for training programs, transition planning and financial support is and will be needed.
- Increasingly, renewable energy investments are becoming better choices, not only based on subsidies but because the fuel is free forever, and there are many years of innovation and volume cost reduction remaining to continue to reduce costs.