First off, Hi Orange, Cookie, green girl, CSI, and all the rest of you who haven't heard from me in months, and apologies to all, but autumn is the busy time for heating and farms in the northeast, and I am involved in sustainability efforts in both fields.
I have been lurking lately due to lack of time, but couldn't help but respond to some recent diaries on the subject of sustainable energy, and to save some of my own time, I am consolidating all my responses into a single diary, and hoping to keep the debate alive a little longer. On a personal note to all my friends, I will do a Farm$ diary as soon as I can, to let you all know what is happening on No Snivilin Farm.
A disclaimer, I make my living in sustainable energy systems and farming. I am NOT a politician, or a genius, nor do I claim to have all the facts. My background is in biochemistry/biophysics, but I am extensively self taught in systems engineering, and have been employed in that capacity for some time.
Prior to, and after the recent election, we have seen some debate on sustainable energy, (although not enough IMHO), but it seems that all of the debate centers around politico-economic solutions...probably not surprising considering that this is first and foremost a political site. The problem is that these solutions OFTEN ignore the realities of physics and chemistry. Sometimes they advocate for solutions that the writer would be dead set against, if they considered all of the ramifications of their solutions. Lets take an example...Orange please forgive me.
We have had numerous posts about the eventual possibility of using switchgrass for ethanol production. Nothing wrong with that on first pass....much lower C footprint, perrenial, sounds almost a panacea. Consider the whole system for turning switchgrass into ethanol...step one: breakdown the cellulose in the grass into sugars for fermentation into alcohol. This is presumably to be done using GMO's (at least in all the current literature this is the approach)....grow up a bunch of bugs which eat cellulose, and shit simple sugars. Don't get me wrong, I like the solution....I also don't think that there is a chance in hell that these little buggers, once developed, are going to stay confined to the lab or chem plant. I also strongly suspect that those who are advocating for switchgrass ethanol are not aware of this subplot, and would have trouble supporting it.
Another frequent posting thread, is the “my solution is the only one” thread. These threads are interesting, in that the usually propose or advocate a useful project, but incorrect scale it, and apply it, and assume that it will work everywhere, if we “put enough resources into it”...Solar PV leaps immediately to mind. PV is a wonderful stechnology, but as currently implemented, is being used in areas where we are seeing a 5 or 10% net energy gain, over the life of the cell. And lets not talk about ROI (remember, I don't understand economics), but for the interested, it's around 20 years at current prices.
Now I don't mean to be a naysayer, and all of the approaches advocated here (except possibly hydrogen) have some degree of merit to them, but (again, IMHO) what we need to recognize is the geographic and energetic diversity of the US with regard to the potential avenues for sustainable energy development. What I believe we need are regional solutions, taking advantage of the strength of each area or region of the US. I don't know what each of these are, but that is really up to the people of that region to understand, and bring to fruition, and none of this changes the fact that we must make a true commitment as a society and as individuals to make fundamental changes in the way we live, and how we participate in our communities...currently nimby attitudes run amok in our society, and it so very easy to outlaw a problem rather than fix it, the former requiring only emotional pandering, while the latter involves actual work, science, technology, and time.