Friday, August 24, 2007

The Long Energy Horizon

Energy Outlook goes deep on us.

...Will a new, highly-concentrated form of energy emerge in time to provide a viable alternative to a world otherwise forced to rely on widely dispersed, low-intensity renewables--and much higher efficiency? A fascinating article in yesterday's MIT Technology Review newsletter casts serious doubts on the timing of nuclear fusion, including the version based on mining Helium-3 from lunar deposits. Nor is it clear that conventional fission power could expand sufficiently to take up the slack from fossil fuels.

With uncertainties like these, few of our current options look very robust. Despite my hesitation about the rate at which plug-in hybrid cars could enter the vehicle fleet, the PHEV technology looks like an excellent hedge against these big unknowns. It's a shame that ethanol-burning cars have hijacked the "flexible fuel vehicle" designation, because that's the essence of what a PHEV provides: the ultimate flexibility to switch between liquid fuels from oil, synthetic hydrocarbons or biomass, and electricity from any source, using infrastructure that's already largely in place....