I am an absolute hobbyist when it comes to energy policy. I know even less about energy generation and distribution. But being in the US during this election year is interesting, because energy is one of the big topics. Germany has the same problem of course, but it seems more acute here in the US.
One of the biggest problems (beside how to power all the air conditioners) is the vast distances, and the fact that 70% of all Americans now live in a suburban environment. That means that every American family member over the age of 16 expects to have access to a car. It’s all about private transportation, and putting a couple of buses out on the street is not going to fix the problem.
T. Boone Pickens, former oil man, take-over investor, and current hedge fund manager is aggressively pitching The Pickens Plan. He proposes building wind farms to create energy that would be used to generate power for homes and businesses. This would free up the natural gas that is currently being used at powerplants, and use it for consumption in cars. All this would give the United States a period in which to develop alternative energy sources. Of course, natural gas is not a renewable resource, but Pickens argues that it is cheaper and local, and subsequently a viable alternative to oil for the US. His website site does a pretty voter-friendly job of describing it. It’s a little unclear at times whether he’s identifying a solution to a national problem, or a business opportuntity, but I imagine to a man like T. Boone Pickens the perfect solution is both.
Andy Grove, the man who built Intel, has also put his hat in the ring. In a conversation with Bloomberg yesterday, he summarized his commitment toward electric cars. Note the rather urgent tone he’s adopting – he believes that the battle for resources might drive us to war or cause us to starve, and that we need to act now. I’m surprised he failed to mention Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place, but it seems Grove is supporting teams from Silicon Valley.
Interestingly, both Pickens and Grove consider the reduction of green house gases and the inherent climate change a secondary mission. Their primary concern is keeping the economy from collapsing.
I think the electric car has a big chance in the US. Americans like cars, and they like technology. It just needs to be reliable. More importantly, they need to agree quickly on standards. If every car/company/distributor is going to have a different kind of battery/charger/voltage then electric transportation will wither on the vine.
But when I think about Germany, one thing is obvious when comparing it to the United States: Only in America could private men like T. Boone Pickens or Andy Grove pick up the slack and drive the national agenda. In Germany everyone expects everything to come down from the government, and people fundamentally mistrust anything else. It is clear that Amercan dependancy on foreign oil, and the lack of an alternative strategy for power and transportation, is due to weak leadership. Well, if the government won’t do it, people will. I don’t believe Pickens and Grove came up with these ideas out of the blue. I’m sure scientists and activists laid a lot of the groundwork for them, but they have the civic pride and courage to stand up and do something about the problem they see. I wish we had these kinds of people in Germany.