There are two recent and very disheartening stories about energy technology. The first has to do with the new standards for automobile gas mileage in the U.S.:
The proposal, which would require automakers to achieve 35 miles per gallon on average, is similar to a measure that was passed in the summer by the Senate but was bitterly opposed by the auto companies, who argued they did not have the technology or the financial resources to reach that goal.
The auto companies gave up their long-held opposition to fuel- economy increases not long before the Senate version was passed, but proposed a much weaker alternative.
…The latest version of the measure, if it becomes law, will force wrenching changes on the American car companies, from design studios to new-car showrooms to executive suites. Automakers now have to achieve 27.5 miles per gallon on cars, a figure that has not changed since 1984, and 22.2 miles per gallon for light trucks, including minivans, sport utility vehicles and pickups. Under the compromise, the companies will retain the distinction between the classes of vehicles, but must still meet a combined 35 m.p.g. fleetwide standard.
…The Big Three automakers have warned that complying with the new fuel economy rules will cost them tens of billions of dollars and rob consumers of choices. But even if they meet the law’s mandate, the fuel efficiency of the American car fleet will still lag far behind that of other major industrialized countries.
European auto companies, for example, must average 40 miles per gallon and China requires a 35 m.p.g. standard. Automobiles sold in those countries are generally smaller and less powerful than the most popular models in the United States, however.
So the best we can do is catch up to China in thirteen years? Instead of acting as giant automobile loan companies, maybe the car companies should spend a little more time on building better cars. At least one guy has figured out how to do it [link]. Meanwhile, we’re falling behind on solar energy:
Europe is considering plans to spend more than £5bn on a string of giant solar power stations along the Mediterranean desert shores of northern Africa and the Middle East.
More than a hundred of the generators, each fitted with thousands of huge mirrors, would generate electricity to be transmitted by undersea cable to Europe and then distributed across the continent to European Union member nations, including Britain.
….Only small stations have been tested, but soon plants capable of generating 100 megawatts of power could be built, enough to provide the needs of a town. The Desertec project envisages a ring of a thousand of these stations being built along the coast of northern Africa and round into the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East. In this way up to 100 billion watts of power could be generated: two thirds of it would be kept for local needs, the rest – around 30 billion watts – would be exported to Europe.
An idea of how much power this represents is revealed through Britain’s electricity generating capacity, which totals 12 billion watts.
But there is an added twist to the system. The superheated steam, after it has driven the plant’s turbines, would then be piped through tanks of sea water which would boil and evaporate. Steam from the sea water would piped away and condensed and stored as fresh water.
‘Essentially you get electricity and fresh water,’ said Knies. ‘The latter is going to be crucial for developing countries round the southern Mediterranean and in north Africa. Their populations are rising rapidly, but they have limited supplies of fresh water. Our solar power plants will not only generate electricity that they can sell to Europe, they will supply drinkable water that will sustain their thirsty populations.’
There are drawbacks, however. At present electricity generated this way would cost around 15-20 eurocents (11 to 14p) a kilowatt-hour – almost twice the cost of power generated by coal. At such prices, few nations would be tempted to switch to solar. ‘Unless it is extremely cheap, it won’t stop people using easy-to-get fossil fuels,’ John Gibbins, an energy engineer at Imperial College London, told Nature magazine last week.
However, Desertec’s backers say improvements over the next decade should bring the cost of power from its plants to less than 10 eurocents a kilowatt-hour, making it competitive with traditionally generated power.
It’s not like the U.S. doesn’t have a couple of deserts lying around. Even if a similar program had to be subsidized initially, it’s a better use of tax dollars than giving Paris Hilton a tax cut.
On the other hand, we are number one in exporting the Big Shitpile…
Related post: Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog:
John Dingell and his allies on Capitol Hill have done the nation enormous damage. Don’t tell me that with the technological geniuses this country produces that we couldn’t be doing so much better than we are in the auto industry. Instead of saving the auto industry, Dingell has brought it to the brink of extinction. It’s become a dinosaur, much like him.