Friday, May 30, 2008

Renewable OPEC: Careful What You Wish For

Not that I'm concerned that Europe is on the right track with respect to producing a majority (if not all) of their energy needs in the future with renewable energy (RE), but this opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal brings up an interesting conundrum. I've heard before (and even blogged about it) that African deserts can provide more than enough solar energy to provide Europe with their electricity needs. When I first heard this, my altruistic (albeit naive) nature immediately leaped to the conclusion that any nation that had better means to produce various forms of RE would provide that energy to other nations at a lower cost, rather than allowing market forces to take over and adjust the price. Silly, silly me. I forgot to put into the equation the world's warm and fuzzy embrace of capitalism.

So, the conundrum is that Europe can only produce so much of their energy consumption with RE. If Europe wants to stay true to their carbon reduction commitments, then they will have to purchase the rest of their energy needs from "renewable energy" producing nations such as Algeria (mentioned in the op-ed); nations that have the best means to produce solar generated power. It also brings to mind that the transmission of this "desert solar power" will have to tie into Europe's electricity grid. That means that Europe would hypothetically be at the mercy of a cartel of RE producing nations (like the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, i.e. OPEC, is with petroleum consuming nations today). In other words, these RE producing nations, like OPEC today, could hold Europe's collective energy fate in their hands (in the form of price fluctuations and even transmission "issues"). I'm not suggesting that future renewable energy producing nations would hold Europe hostage, but I am saying that the ability for all nations to be completely self-sufficient with respect to their energy production and consumption would be difficult if production is concentrated in the hands of a few nations, like what happens under OPEC. As an example today, if OPEC sneezes then the world's oil markets shiver. If anything the idea of a "Renewable OPEC," in light of what happens with the petroleum OPEC, certainly brings up some interesting, eerily familiar geopolitical ramifications for the future of RE production and consumption.

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Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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