Monday, March 06, 2006

He's a good man mr brown-he does his homework

From Grist I thought its so good read more on grist or
You discuss nuclear energy very little in the book. What are your thoughts on it?

I've tried to love nuclear, but I haven't been very successful. I don't think it can get beyond the economics. If we insist that utilities bear the full cost of nuclear power -- and that's something we need to do -- they have to set aside money for decommissioning and include that in the rates. That would cost as much or more than construction. They have to deal with the waste issue. And they have to find an insurance company that will insure them.

There are other questions as well. If we decide to go nuclear, do we mean all countries can have nuclear power? Do we have an A-list and a B-list? If so, who makes that list? Who enforces it? Looking at Iran and North Korea right now, I'm not sure we're very good at that.

Do you consider biofuels a permanent solution or a bridge?

I think we're going to need almost all agricultural resources to produce food. We keep forgetting the water issue, which is a sleeper. Half the world's people live in countries where water tables are falling. We may wake up one morning and there won't be enough grain to go around, and not enough water to produce enough grain.

We've always been concerned about the effect of high oil prices on food-production costs, and those are very real, given the oil intensity of world agriculture today. But more important is the effect of high oil prices on the demand for agriculture commodities. Once oil gets up to $60 a barrel, it becomes profitable to convert agricultural commodities into automotive fuels. In effect, the price of oil becomes a support price for agricultural commodities, and therefore food prices. If at any point the food value of the commodity drops below the fuel value, the market will move that commodity into the energy economy.

I don't think we yet quite grasp the effect of $60-a-barrel oil on food prices, because the capacity to distill ethanol and produce biodiesel is not yet large enough to really have an impact. But it's exploding all over the world. Up until a year or two ago, all the government programs here [in the U.S.], in Europe, and in Brazil were driven by government subsidies. In Brazil there are no more subsidies. Ethanol investment is just exploding; it's entirely a market-based operation.

In The Same Vein
Corn at the Right Time
Ethanol is suddenly all the rage in D.C. and DetroitThere's enormous investment in this country in ethanol distilleries and biodiesel refineries. Most people aren't even aware that on Jan. 1 a year ago, we adopted a $1-a-gallon subsidy for biodiesel. But we're setting up competition between supermarkets and service stations for the same commodities.

There is a very attractive alternative automotive-fuel model: gas-electric hybrids with a plug-in and wind energy.

Is it scaleable quickly enough?

Oh yeah. There's a lot of momentum building behind plug-in hybrids. There was a conference organized [a month] ago in Washington on plug-ins. It was organized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the NGO that organizes these things for Congress. [Sen.] Orrin Hatch [R-Utah] left the Alito hearings to come and make a statement.

The interesting thing about the plug-in effort is that the neocons and the environmentalists are both supporting it, and that's a unique combination. There were more neocons speaking at the conference than environmentalists; they want to break dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

What are your thoughts on this idea of breaking our dependence on Middle East oil?

Middle East oil accounts for 15, at most 20 percent [PDF] of our oil. But it's far more important to other parts of the world, and we're all in this together. We have to think about it broadly.

One of the attractive features of moving toward gas-electric hybrids and wind power is that we have the infrastructure already in place. In Plan B, the original, I talk about a hydrogen fuel-cell automotive-energy economy. And that may come, but it's a generation down the road. With the gas-electric hybrids, you need gasoline service stations and you need an electrical grid. We have both.

It's relatively easy to increase wind-generating capacity tenfold. The companies are there, the technologies are there -- it's just a matter of incentives. We might not even need many of those now. We could start doubling each year.

One of the neat things about the gas-electric hybrid plug-in is that the batteries in the vehicle fleet become a storage facility for wind energy. And there's a tank of gasoline as additional backup. So it's really an ideal marriage, a great way of rapidly exploiting wind. And wind is such a huge resource.

Is there a reason that you seem so much more enthusiastic about wind than solar?

It's mostly timing. If you look at the cost curves, wind is roughly a decade ahead of solar. It's just a matter of time.