Energy: An Important, Difficult Discussion

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

Energy and energy policies are impacting almost every aspect of daily life. Individuals, families, the workplace, companies, cities, states, nations — all face the global impact of the changing world of energy.

It is difficult to address the energy issue because the emotional topic has climate change at its roots — a place where no discussion seems possible.
The only way for the conversation to proceed is to stipulate that climate is an issue facing everyone and that greener energy policies are a good thing.

That said, how fast and at what cost green solutions take hold seems to take center stage. The answers range from “now and at any cost” to “as technology permits and when solutions become affordable.”

Unsatisfying outcomes and unintended consequences riddle the the global landscape from well-intentioned energy policies.

If you’ve run a company, a department or even taken part in managing your family’s affairs, you’ve wittingly or unwittingly managed change — or some form of transition from something to something.

Maybe you were an early cell phone adopter — a product that has morphed from a suitcase, to a “handphone,” to a flip phone and on to today’s smartphone. Technology always drove changes as both the devices and the infrastructure needed to support them changed. Cellphone technology changed communications very quickly and over a short period of time because it offered promising solutions and utility at an ever more affordable cost.

This is not a perfect analogy to the energy transition, but the comparison has its merits.
Cellphone technology was not driven by making landline calls more expensive. But then again, cellphone technology didn’t face — in some people’s minds — an existential threat.

Transition and technology go hand-in-hand. To leave one technology behind and adopt a new technology — this transition is a from and to game.

If you want a printer to transition from rotary screen-printing technology in a plant, you need to have a superior digital printing technology to transition to, along with benefits in energy consumption, quality, labor, productivity and environmental impact — all at an affordable cost.

The energy transition will eventually be solved the same way. Just as fracking unlocked the natural gas boom in the United States, and coal fired power plants converted to natural gas creating important reductions in emissions.

Green hydrogen could be a viable solution. Using wind or solar energy to power storable hydrogen generation could eliminate the battery storage problem. The hydrogen, and its store of energy, could be used to power cars and other users of electricity through its zero-emission release of power with advanced fuel cell technology.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) also is focused on developing “Generation IV” nuclear reactors. The sodium-cooled fast reactor, the very high temperature reactor, and the molten salt reactor are “three designs [the DoE is] currently working on with industry partners to help meet our future energy needs in a cost-competitive way.”

Energy, it’s about technology and time — how fast, and at what cost?

July/August 2022