Thanks to the 839 readers who sent me their recipes for fixing the supply side of our national energy "problem." I've never gotten so much email so quickly in response to any column.
In my May 10 column,
A Four-Point Plan to Cut U.S. Energy Use, which solved the demand side of the current energy crisis, I asked for your suggestions on how to tackle the other half of the problem by expanding supply. And boy, did you all respond.
I don't agree with everything that readers suggested. But, as I said in my column, we're brainstorming here. So, following the time-honored rules of brainstorming, I, acting as facilitator for the group, am going to present your ideas without editorial comment. (We'll save the trash talk for a later round.)
I've grouped them together by topic because, it turns out, most of your solutions to the supply-side of the energy crisis fell into six major categories:
- Drill domestically for more oil.
- Go nuclear.
- Hydrogen as the fuel of the future.
(Surprisingly to me, coal and wind didn't get much support.)
That's not much of a consensus. And it gets worse if you consider the email that I received that ridiculed one or the other of these energy sources/technologies. But more about that later. Right now ... on to your ideas. (As per my warning in my last column, I've used first and last names on each email unless requested otherwise by the writer.)
Drill Domestically Wherever We Can to Produce More Oil
"First, corral the environmentalists, and drill for oil on land we own, and control, where we KNOW there is oil. (ANWR, Florida's west coast.)" -- Foster Clive
"As to our energy future, while innovation from new technology will take care of the long-term problem, the short term must be dealt with by ignoring environmentalists and moving ahead with drilling in Alaska as well as the various U.S. coasts where it is prohibited." -- Mike Chadwick
"There are vast amounts of oil (actually, bitumen, a precursor of oil) in oil shales in the United States, and new technology (exists) for extracting it with minimal environmental effects." -- David Hunt
Nuclear: Best Source for Large-Scale, Non-Petroleum Energy Production
"I could care less about saving energy. I pay for every kilowatt or BTU I use. I am open to reducing the cost of energy, and the way to do that is obvious to everyone. You begin by building more nuclear power plants and opening up all available fields in the United States to drilling and production of crude oil. Simple." -- Darin Johnson
"The solution to our electricity problem is mind-numbingly simple: BUILD NUKES!!! And rocket the waste off into the sun." -- Thomas Christman
"We could vastly increase our energy supplies by drawing on a source whose time has truly come -- nuclear power -- a couple of variations of which are already on the drawing boards. Deployment of some combination of two nuclear plant designs now in development would enable the production of vast quantities of electricity, which could, in turn, be tapped to power vehicles now on our horizon." -- Bruce Goldman
Hydrogen: The Fuel of the Future
"Build a national network of hydrogen refueling stations (hydrogen gas stations). This should be easy. After all, Eisenhower was able to build the interstate highway system in the 1950s and '60s, which seems like a much more complex task." -- Joe Stangarone
"The plan I see being the best is hydrogen with water being the exhaust from the vehicles. With the use of solar panels, we can generate the hydrogen free ... well, almost free ... but without the need of oil." -- Jim Thomas
"Some of BMW's new 2008 luxury cars will have the ability to run on hydrogen. Keep in mind that these are not fuel cells. Rather, these are conventional internal-combustion engines that have been modified to burn hydrogen or (and this is key) gasoline. Since the hydrogen infrastructure is very spotty, these vehicles can use gasoline at the flick of a switch when hydrogen is not available." -- R.A.
Ethanol -- If the Brazilians Can Do it, Why Can't We?
"Brazil runs over 50% of its vehicles on ethanol. Ethanol can come from many sources. The production plants are being built now. (One in my home state of Georgia is purported to be producing ethanol from trees.)" -- Scott Legg
"Get sugar cane fields growing. Sugar cane requires less fertilizer than corn and is easier to make ethanol out of." -- Rita Hannum
"Turn lawn grass, America's largest crop, into ethanol." -- Donna Williamson
"There is no reason that ethanol cannot be our primary fuel. A gradual increase of ethanol/gasoline mixtures at the pump until the standard fuel is 80%-90% alcohol can be a real possibility within the next eight to 10 years if someone would actually get it rolling now." -- Jeff Rogers
"Congress needs to mandate that every car sold in the USA must be a flex-fuel vehicle within three years. ... Furthermore, the flex fuel vehicles should be engineered to burn methanol -- as well as ethanol-based fuels. That would allow for more types of fuel to compete to fill the demand." -- Jack Wyatt
Biodiesel -- Proven Power From Garbage
"Why not use every bit of waste, i.e., paper sludge, slash piles, veggie by-products (carrot tops, potato skins, beet peelings, etc.) to make more fuel?" -- Jack Ellsworth
"Biodiesel can provide a major new energy source. If it is made with non-food crops, the yield is far higher than with soybeans." -- David Hunt
"All we really need is car companies to increase the number of cars with diesel engines. ... The second part of this has to be biodiesel stations. Biodiesel fuel can easily be made at home, and it can be made from used vegetable oil. Currently I know someone who makes their own biodiesel 40-50 gallons at a time at a cost of 69 cents a gallon." -- Aaron Nuti
"Biodiesel -- There is no reason, other than distribution, why every ship, train, semi-truck, tractor or piece of construction equipment with a diesel engine should be burning straight (petroleum-based) diesel." -- Michael Weiss
Solar Energy Could Do the Job Just by Itself
"The United States has thousands of miles of desert and plains that receive enormous amounts of sunlight every day, often even in winter. It has been said that approximately 100 square miles of solar panels, or a modest multiple thereof (five to 10 times) could generate enough electricity to accommodate virtually all of the electric energy needs to the country." -- Raymond Melrose
"I live in Las Vegas, and the amount of solar energy here is amazing. We could make it mandatory that all new houses have solar roof tiles instead of regular tiles and give tax credits if people replace their tiles with solar tiles on their existing homes." -- Steve Boucher
"Solar panels in the southern states, especially Florida and the like, could easily be used to run all the electricity a house needs. Furthermore, having lived in Florida, it's so sunny that the excess electricity could either be sold back to the electric companies or the solar package could come with a power supply to use in charging an electric-powered vehicle. ... I know I have seriously thought of solar panels once in Florida and now in Tennessee, but I cannot afford it without a tax break of some sort. Wouldn't that be great?" -- Bob and Anita
So Where Do We Go From Here?
I think the next step is a more careful and critical look at the assumptions and facts about each of these six supply-side solutions. The energy crisis/solutions debate has so far generated a lot of heat -- but not much in the way of facts. Here are three key questions for which I've seen too few answers with real facts:
- How much oil really is "locked up" in U.S. oil-shale deposits? I got emails that asserted that there was enough oil in U.S. shale deposits to push our oil reserves ahead of those in Saudi Arabia.
- Does corn-based ethanol actually take more energy to produce than it yields when it's burned as a fuel? I've heard wild estimates on both sides.
- Did environmentalists and excessive regulation do in nuclear power in the United States, or was it economics?
Like most of us caught up in the struggle to understand our energy future, I've got opinions on issues like these. But if I'm honest with myself, those opinions are often built on unexamined assumptions and old data. Over the next six months, that's one a month, I'm going to take the most objective look I can at each of these potential energy solutions.
And again, I'd like your help. Each time I complete a topic, I'll announce the next month's topic and ask that the readers of Jubak's Journal who know or think they know the economic facts about this energy source to write me with data, references to books and links to Web sites. I'll try to pull those into an organized presentation, as objectively as I can produce, on what we do and don't know about each source.
The first topic: Ethanol.
your data and your Web sites, and let's see if we can figure out exactly how much energy and money it costs to produce a gallon of the major types of ethanol.
Look for that column around the middle of June.
And let me end with a sincere thanks to everybody who contributed -- and who might contribute in the future -- to the debate in these pages.
New Developments on Past Columns
A Four-Point Plan to Cut U.S. Energy Use: Not every reader's comment fit so nicely into the categories I outlined above. But some of the "misfits" are just too good to leave on the editing-room floor. Especially because they're a reminder not to take everything, including ourselves, so seriously.
Here's a selection of some that startled me with their inventiveness or that just plain tickled me:
"Annex Alberta." -- Peter Milner
"Manipulate the Strategic Oil Reserve and oil futures. In the oil futures market, the
could intervene like it does with currency and bonds." -- Victor Malo
"Every third Monday each month is National Stay Where You Are Day. No driving except to hospitals. Americans are working too hard, nobody likes Monday, and not driving one day a month would save a lot of gasoline."-- Lynn R.
"Get masses of hamsters to run inside a very large wheel to produce low-cost energy." -- Lorraine Jacchino
"How about mandating all TV sets in America be powered by an electricity-generating exercycle? Americans watch an average of eight hours of TV a week. Think of the benefits." -- Stuart Massion
At the time of publication, Jubak did not own or control any of the equities mentioned in this column. He does not own short positions in any stock mentioned in this column.
Jim Jubak is senior markets editor for MSN Money. He is a former senior financial editor at Worth magazine and editor of Venture magazine. Jubak was a Bagehot Business Journalism Fellow at Columbia University and has written two books: "The Worth Guide to Electronic Investing" and "In the Image of the Brain: Breaking the Barrier Between the Human Mind and Intelligent Machines." As an investor, he says he believes the conventional wisdom is always wrong -- but that he will nonetheless go with the herd if he believes there's a profit to be made. He lives in New York. While Jubak cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.