Energy Wire

About Energy Wire

Was there ever a better time to launch a provocative conversation about our energy future?

Oil prices are smashing records, mining companies and environmental groups are squaring off over the future of coal plants, food is being tied to fuel, the long-dormant nuclear industry is stirring, and renewable forms of energy are growing fastest of all as climate change concerns mount. Change is coming to the energy industry and it is taking many forms.

I am the Washington Post's energy correspondent and I have been focusing on the sprawling intersection of energy and politics. That's led me to write about everything from Kansas coal plants to Kurdish oil contracts, from carbon trading in Europe to horse trading on Capitol Hill, from Gazprom's tactics on gas to OPEC's tactics on oil.

No other industry marshals as much capital, generates as much profit, draws as much public ire, or plays as vital a role in the world economy.

Now the Post is going to expand my mission to open up debates and conversations with readers like you while providing some additional insights and commentary, interviews with leaders of the energy industry and links to other resources. We're looking for comments, arguments, or insights from readers in an animated, yet civil, spirit that will help us all come away with fresh thoughts or understanding about energy.

I bring a variety of experiences to this conversation. I covered the domestic oil and gas industry for The Wall Street Journal in the early 1980s. I visited oil rigs offshore Angola and traveled with oilmen trying to make friends in Sudan. I also lived in Houston for a few weeks. Later I covered Africa for the Journal and then for Business Week.

I have been at the Post since 1989. During that time, I have covered Wall Street, economic policy and diplomatic policy. I was the Post's Beijing correspondent from 1994 to 1998. I also did a stint as deputy editor of the weekly Outlook section.

Please join us regularly to get your energy fix, and to explore the world's energy future.

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Comments (13)

9ltyn:

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9ltyn:

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Phil:

"Here is an example... Would you rather have a nuclear plant or a windmill in your backyard? I know what I would want, but people are fighting windmills. Why? Someone please tell me." - Becca

If it is in my backyard, does that mean I own it and get to reap the profits? If so, I'd rather have the nuclear plant.

People should be fighting coal not nuclear. The "worst" disaster in the U.S. nuclear industry didn't kill a single person. That's not true of any other major energy resource. A Chernobyl-type disaster isn't even possible in a modern plant that would be approved in this day and age, so that's not an issue either. Nuclear waste is only an issue because people have learned to fear it--it can be contained safely in Yucca Mountain or elsewhere. Coal leaves behind dangerous waste too, not to mention acid rain and greenhouse gasses.

People need to get rational, listen to scientists, and reconsider this ridiculous aversion to the only carbon-free energy source that can produce more than 10% of our energy. Wind power is great. Call me when it produces even 2% of our electricity.

Victor Compton:

@ Aaron
I drive no more than 20 miles a day, so one compressed air fill up a week would do me fine. Here in France, electricity prices, since privatizing, have quadrupled, so we use lots less electricity and all appliances we buy must use the least possible. I'm rational. I would never increase my electricity use, except for something like the Air Car which would save me much more money than I had been spending on gasoline. Here, currently we are paying the equivalent of $5.65 a gallon for gas. So, we would prefer to use no gasoline at all. When you are paying that price, you will be making long distance calls to India, trying to get an Air Car shipped to you.
I didn't write that the air car would stop all fossil fuel usage, just reduce it by 80%, which is about equal to the amount of intercity driving Americans commit each day. And of course farmers can produce their own "diesel" in the form sunflower oil and other vegetable oils. Almost all Farmers in France are now using these oils, illegally, to produce our food. Oil company lobbying caused the French government to outlaw this practice.
There is nothing wrong with giving interest free loans to poor people, other than the private banks charging onerous interest rates for accumulating undeserved wealth. Nothing is lazier or more immoral than making money from money. If you really don't understand this concept, see the entire internet film on Google, "The Money Masters." It will teach you all that you were deliberately not taught about economics and money in both high school and university.
America was built by rich people bribing congressmen and Senators to do their bidding and sign over the public mineral wealth into a few families in the private sector, or by selling land for pennies an acre to the "Robber Barons" for the railroads. They then simply created "towns" and farms on maps, and sold these for millions of dollars to individuals. Our factories killed millions by working them to death, including 5 year old children, until Unions were formed to fight the wonderful, rich American families who owned the factories and the mines.
And, a loan is not a gift. It is paid back, so those poor have the same right to buy as you do. There is no expense to you. A loan is not a subsidy. Ask everyone paying back a student loan.
The tone of your comment seems pro oil and banking, and prejudicial against all those less wealthy than you, and you ignore history. However the one thing you must not ignore, is that within a few months, your car may be literally too expensive to drive. Gasoline in such a situation will be rationed to prevent only the Rich having access to it. So, unless you have an alternative, such as the Air Car, you will be up the creek, without a paddle.

glen:

robert f kennedy notes
Iceland was 80 percent dependent on imported coal and oil in the 1970s and was among the poorest economies in Europe. Today, Iceland is 100 percent energy-independent, with 90 percent of the nation’s homes heated by geothermal and its remaining electrical needs met by hydro. The International Monetary Fund now ranks Iceland the fourth most affluent nation on earth. The country, which previously had to beg for corporate investment, now has companies lined up to relocate there to take advantage of its low-cost clean energy....It should come as no surprise that California, America’s most energy-efficient state, also possesses its strongest economy...The United States has far greater domestic energy resources than Iceland or Sweden does. We sit atop the second-largest geothermal resources in the world. The American Midwest is the Saudi Arabia of wind; indeed, North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas alone produce enough harnessable wind to meet all of the nation’s electricity demand. As for solar, according to a study in Scientific American, photovoltaic and solar-thermal installations across just 19 percent of the most barren desert land in the Southwest could supply nearly all of our nation’s electricity needs without any rooftop installation, even assuming every American owned a plug-in hybrid.

kackermann:

Instead of firing up the truck, I've been riding one of my horses up to the store when I just need a pack of smokes or whatever.

I'm thinking of building a buggy for my horse. I'm going to use it to transport fuel cells and solar panels.

I'm going to equip my buggy with WiFi, a loud stereo, and a racing stripe down the side. I'm thinking of marketing the buggy as the ultimate teenage dating ride. All kinds of time to neck, and basically a built-in excuse for getting her home late.

It will also have a programmable electronic sign on the back so I can type out nasty messages to any car behind me who thinks they are in a hurry.

There's going to be a new pace to life, folks. You can either get on board and enjoy, or you can be laughed at as a fool.

I can even read while I drive. I can read about heat exchangers, and maximizing crop yields. I can work on standardizing portable power packs and I can work on converting all those machines we love, like rototillers, to work on standard power packs.

You go ahead and keep worrying about oil. Don't mind me, I'm just getting rich and having fun.

MasterBlaster:

Hey, about flying the seed corn up from South America: To create the most productive seed through variety breeding and selection, crop breeders (for all types of seed, not just corn) need to many generations or crops to keep making hybred crosses (these cross bred crops date back to the 1930's). By going to South America, seed companies can add another generation. If all they did was have one crop generation per year by using only North America, increasing seed yield potential would be a much slower process.

Most corn grown in the USA is for livestock feed. Sure, prices have increased, but the reasons include much more world demand for all food and energy. People in the third world are making some righteous dollars and using it to improve their diets and their lives. China and India are using much more energy than ever before. That's putting a crimp on prices everywhere. Simple point: We need to increase energy production, unless we can accomplish something that's never been done before. No economy has expanded withour increasing energy use.

Aaron :

A compressed air car? You've got to be kidding! Sure it works, but who wants to stop every 160 miles to refill? Not I! There is no way that this could replace all the internal combustion engines in America. How big a tank would it take to run an 18 wheeler down the road? Or run a combine through a field? (We're still going to need food.) There is currently nothing on the radar that can totally replace the internal combustion engine, be it gas or diesel. BTW, there are places that a person could drive for 160 miles and not come to another filling station. What do you do then? Sit there until someone comes by with 'excess' compressed air?

And who wants the government to give "free loans" so that even the poorest can buy one? Again, NOT I! America was not built on entitlements! I'm not entitled to a car! I'm not entitled to a job! Heck, I'm not even entitled to a house! Why should the poor be given a car at my expense? This is just a form of socialism, where everyone gets the same no matter how hard they do or don't work, and is totally un-American.

As for the new margin of electricity that's available every day, there are also more and more people in this country every day that (SURPRISE!) use more and more electricity every day. The electric grid in this country is old and has been neglected. The gas pumps at filling stations may be used less, but what about the BIG air compressors that would be required every 160 miles along every major and minor highway? Oh, that's right. We'll just sit 4 hours, for every three hours of driving at the new electrical hookups that'll be required to be built every 160 miles.

I for one am tired of the "greenies" demanding that I change my way of living! We aren't out of oil yet, and if/when that does happen we as a human race will still be burning something in our engines. Maybe it'll be garbage, ala Back to the Future.

Becca:

I encourage everyone to check out farmingforyou.org. It tells you the truth behind the prices.

Also, we need to stop fighting energy. There are several types of energy and we need to be able to do the least amount of harm to our environment, while still living the lifestyles we want to live at a cost we can afford. What do I mean? Here is an example... Would you rather have a nuclear plant or a windmill in your backyard? I know what I would want, but people are fighting windmills. Why? Someone please tell me.

dcp:

Hello Mr. Mufson,

I can only comment about household economics. The reason why I have decided to live in the city is so that I can get to work and back home without spending a fortune in money and time. I wouldn't consider working an hour's commute away from home. Just recently after returning to work after maternity leave, I began walking to the nearest metro (20 minutes). To think I could've been doing this all those other years. However, having a child changes things. I will eventually have to move into a bigger space and drop the kid off here and there. The cost of housing in the District is atrocious though. Even my 1-bedroom is hundreds of dollars more than a bigger apartment in the suburbs. Conserving energy in individual households does not necessarily mean saving money. And so individual households are not necessarily going to catch on to conservation efforts if it's hitting them in the pocketbook and restricting their mobility, that is unless the pain of waste becomes greater than the pain of conservation.

Randy Dutton:

Food to Fuel Ethanol Policy will generate a new wave of al Quaida recruits from the 100 million additional starving people. Recruitment will be easy because the nexus can be made that we are burning their food. The only recourse is to ELIMINATE the ethanol subsidies and mandates, immediately open up drilling in ANWR, off shore, and in situ thermal extraction of the 800 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil in the Rockies. An immediate change of policy will shake the speculators to their roots and speculative options will plunge, and so will the price of food. Then also fast track the wind/tidal projects currently being blocked by environmentalists such as in western Washington and Cape Wind. And permit the building of new refineries. Our economy is collapsing from a failure of leadership - from both sides.

victor compton:

The Media, in general seems to be deliberately not reporting much on the zero-pollution compressed air car, which to me, seems a very significant advance with tremendous political, and economic effects, as well as a boon for the environment.

It is now going into production in India and is being made by TATA Motors. It will cost $4000, in India and I have heard a price of $11,000 in America where (in principle) a northeastern firm will begin producing them in 2009. The car runs on compressed air in carbon fiber tanks to prevent injuries in case of explosion during an accident, etc. It has an on-board compressor which will recharge the car in your garage in about 4 hours, or at a special filling station in about 2 to 3 minutes. It has a range of 160 miles on a charge of compressed air. It is automatic, cruises at a top speed of 68 mph, and has mandatory air conditioning, (as the compressed air leaving the tanks is very cold.) It uses vegetable oil to lubricate the motor and costs about $1.50 a day to run. 5 models will be available in India, including a small truck and a station wagon.

As it uses no petrol products such as gasoline, diesel, fuel oil etc. it cuts the oil companies completely out of the picture, period. So, the political effect is stunning. The oil companies will lost 80% of their revenues. They will become normal sized again. America will have a surplus of oil to keep in reserve as no imported oil is then necessary. Arab power implodes and their fortunes and influence slowly deflate to reasonable levels. All the troops can be brought home from everywhere in the world as most American military bases are about controlling and stealing oil. The Iraq war ends. The Israeli's are not a vital interest sufficient to cause American troops to stay in the mid-east to defend them. So, they will have to make peace with their neighbors. They can't afford to be at war constantly.

On the home front, any consumer with one of these cars has the money he once spent on gasoline and maintenance for his car, to spend on himself and his family. This will amount to a sizable rise in buying power, which will create many new jobs. The government could even provide interest free loans to enable the poorest among us to all buy the car. The money saved would quickly pay for it. As the car is a small car, 2 air cars, being equivalent in length to these "star wars 4 wheel drive" road monsters, when the air car has become in vast majority, the vehicle of generalized usage, it will be like having millions of extra parking spaces and hundreds of thousands of extra miles of roads built, as there will be more space everywhere. The health benefits could be amazing as asthma and many other lung problems caused by diesel particles and low oxygen levels should diminish greatly in number.

The only negative I've seen is that the air car is actually an electric car and that we will have to build many new nuclear power plants to provide the electricity to run the new compressors. I think this is oil company anti-propaganda. All the new computers, refrigerators, washers, dryers, etc. are putting new models on the market daily that use less and less electricity, therefore, there is a new margin of available electricity which will continue to rise. And gas pumps will be used much less in the filling stations. But beyond this, a solar panel on the roof or in the yard of every homeowner with such a car, would provide most or all of the electricity necessary to recharge the vehicle.

So far there seems to be NO discussion of the car on the major news websites of the English world, and though the car's motor is a newly engineered French accomplishment, Sarkozy and the French government are pointedly ignoring it, and investing in a smaller engine gasoline car as their vision of the future.

It seems clear that Big Oil, the Arms Industry, the US government (for the gas taxes) etc. are all doing their best not to notice this vehicle when what we should be doing is decreeing to the major auto makers, "Gentlemen, you are ordered to go on a war scale program to produce this car immediately and in vast numbers. Double or triple your employees if necessary. We don't care. By 2020, we want the vast majority of Americans to own one of these cars.
If you wish to know more about this vehicle, simply look up "the compressed air car" on Google. There are a number of headings and articles.
Cheers, Victor from France

Dave Mendelin:

Someone should know about this. US seed companies are flying the current crop of ethanol seed corn up from Argentina in 747s. How is that for lowering our carbon footprint?

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