Should we be Picken wind or natural gas?

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Picken plan (which is being promoted extensively by T. Boone Picken, oil and gas billionaire). Basically, Picken’s proposal is to use natural gas for automobiles rather than for generation of electricity, and to use wind power to replace gas-powered power plants. There are many merits to this plan, such as reduction in petroleum imports from unstable sources, and reduction in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. It is almost certainly better than the status quo. It also would make Pickens even wealthier, but that is beside the point right now.

Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute, argues that Boone might be only half right. Brown, writing in Sunday’s Washington Post (Want a better way to power your car? It’s a breeze, HT: Geology News), agrees that we need to make much more use of wind power (clean, cheap, domestic), but that we would be better off using that electricity to power our cars rather than just using it to generate electricity for non-transportation uses.

Here are a few observations:

  1. Pickens is doing us a service by pushing for alternatives. We hear a lot of talk about the need for alternative energy sources, but we are not moving all that fast.
  2. It is not clear from the Washington Post article that wind power is sufficient for both our domestic/industrial electrical needs and transportation needs.
  3. Natural gas reserves in North America are still large, and gas reservoirs that were once thought to be unexploitable are now being brought into production. Yes, we import some natural gas, but that is almost all from Canada, which is a considerably more stable source than most OPEC countries (The European Union gets a lot of its natural gas from Russia, so they have fewer energy options than does the United States)
  4. The combustion of natural gas produces carbon dioxide, but not as much per energy unit as other fossil fuels, such as oil or coal. It also burns more cleanly in terms of particulates, sulfides, and other pollutants.
  5. We need a multi-faceted approach to meeting our energy needs. Some day we will come up with sustainable alternatives, using renewable, clean sources such as solar and wind power. Until that time, natural gas will play an important role in our energy mix.

Grace and Peace

One thought on “Should we be Picken wind or natural gas?

  1. snughomes

    Unfortunately Natural gas is less efficient as a fuel than others, producing only 700-1200 btu per cubic foot whereas propane for example produces 2500 btu per cubic foot. It may be cheaper but it doesn’t burn as hot. (I just completed a home energy audit course last month)

    I agree that a multifaceted approach is necessary, but much can be done in our homes to eliminate fuel usage and expense.

    For instance we generally find that Home Air Sealing can be the single most important and CHEAPEST method of reducing your heating use and bill. Most of our customers tell us that they had new windows and doors put in, spending thousands of dollars pointlessly because their heat was leaving in other ways that could be fixed with a can of spray foam.

    Ethenol was the previous big environmental push, and we ended up with a horrible fuel that ruins our engines. I knew a guy who has been THE biggest promoter for Ethenol in the country for years, and I told him back in the 1990s that he was just trying to exchange one pollutant for another.

    I think the answer is still in Hydrogen, Solar, Wind, and Geothermal in combination with increased efficiency.


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