Continuing my dialog with Kevin, my second point was:
Second, we’re too dependent on ME oil. We’re going to do something about it, both by pushing conservation, expanding alternative energy, and expanding exploration. We’re going to build the damn windmills off of Cape Cod;
I’ve been reading up a bit on this (note that it’s a pretty information-rich subject, and unlike areas of political theory or strategy, where I feel free to just sit down and let it rip, I do think that some knowledge of fact is pretty important here – a knowledge which I’ll freely confess to lacking, and welcoming input from other, more-knowledgeable parties, to get), and really realize that energy security has to be dealt with in three overlapping arenas.
First, in recognizing that our economic well-being depends to a significant part on our ability to buy energy from people who don’t like us very much, and may at any time choose to stop selling it to us, or take military steps to keep other people from selling it to us. The nature of our response to this will determine a lot about our future: first in our willingness to accept the notion that people can boycott us, and that our response won’t be – as the Japanese was – military; second in that we may well have to project military power to keep the ‘people who don’t like us’ from militarily imposing their desire not to sell to us on others. And you betcha, I’m certainly aware of just how narrow and permeable is that distinction.
Second, in realizing that in strategic military and economic conflicts such as the ones we seem to be in today, that our ability to resiliently respond to changes in circumstance – our ability to adapt our economy and our political and military responses – is going to be a more fruitful path to take than one that attempts to build ever more massive defenses of rigid economic and social structures.
Third, in realizing that not all of the risks to our society through our use of energy come from hostile action. Happenstance (exemplified in the form of the recent blackout), our own bad behavior (as in the gaming of the California regulatory system),and unforeseen or unmanaged consequences (among others, environmental) all will come into play in trying to figure out how to approach these.
I initially wrote a 4,500 word screed, and quickly realized that a) it was just too damn long to post on a blog (unless you’re Bill Whittle!); and b) I was moving down into a level of detail not supported by my knowledge of the facts.
So let me lay out a couple of summary facts, and then some policy challenges and the directions (60,000 foot strategies) I think we ought to be considering in response.
First, we’re getting better at using energy efficiently. The EIA has a history. In 1972, the year before the OPEC embargo, we used 18,650 BTU per 1996 dollar of GDP. This was a slight improvement on the 1949 figure of 20,620. By 1982, we were using 14,890 BTU/dollar, and in 2002, we were using 10,310 BTU/dollar. We’re decoupling our economic strength from our direct consumption of energy, and that’s a good thing. It implies a kind of ‘systemic efficiency’ that we need to keep working to improve.
Second, our current exposure to Islamist boycott (what we’re really talking about here) is not today critical. Here are just a couple of numbers; they are 2002 numbers from the great www.eia.doe.gov site, unless noted.
Our total annual energy budget for 2002 was 97,350,684 billion BTU (bBTU).
Of that, the following % of our total energy consumption was from
|coal & coke: |22.9%|
|natural gas: |23.7%|
|pumped hydro: |-0.1%| (essentially, this consumes energy in order to create reserves for peak demand times )
|total renewable: |6.1%|
Of that total energy budget, 38,183,179 bBTU, or 39.2% of our annual budget was in the form of oil, and of that, approximately (I say approximately because the readily accessible numbers include other petroleum products that may not have been used for energy, but for chemical feedstocks, etc.) 19.7% of that was imported from the Persian Gulf states, and if you include Indonesia and Algeria, approximately 22.5% of our imports come from countries where the Islamist movement could feasibly take power. No natural gas was imported from Islamist states.
That suggests that about 8.8% of our annual energy budget is exposed to Islamist control. That number probably isn’t exact, but it probably isn’t too far off (note that if someone who knows more than I could learn about this in three or four hours of searching wants to pitch in here, I’d love to have my back-of-the-hand numbers validated or corrected).
Note that as domestic production flattens or declines, our demand for imports will probably increase, depending on the growth on the economy and efficiency in use.
So we need to replace approximately 10% of our energy budget in order to be secure from energy blackmail by Islamist states. This would imply, as an example, a 50% increase in renewable energy (mix of biomass, wind, and geothermal) for a gain of 3%, combined with approximately a 10% increase in domestic oil and gas production. combined with a 3% increase in efficiency to completely shield ourselves from the economic and political risk of a boycott. 50% of those changes would make the effects of a boycott relatively insignificant, and would probably go a long way toward discouraging such a boycott.
But a boycott isn’t the only risk we face.
First, our economic and social well-being is inextricably tied to the well-being of our wider community, which would include Europe and East Asia. Their political vulnerability is lower (i.e. they are less likely to be subject to a boycott), but they, like us, are vulnerable to disruptions in the infrastructure – which could be caused by a far smaller group than could effectively lead a peaceful boycott. So we need to work to secure the network at it’s most vulnerable nodes – the transshipment points, pipelines, and shipping lanes.
That won’t be easy, as long as they run through areas that are thinly populated, hard to control, and immediately accessible to the people who don’t like us very much.
As long as we’re talking about securing the network, let’s talk about our domestic networks, which are underfunded and maintained, overly complex, and highly vulnerable to temporary collapse through accident or sabotage.
I’ve talked in the past about redefining security to deal with 4G challenges; about creating, as Bruce Schneier says:
Where Schneier had sought one overarching technical fix, hard experience had taught him the quest was illusory. Indeed, yielding to the American penchant for all-in-one high-tech solutions can make us less safe—especially when it leads to enormous databases full of confidential information. Secrecy is important, of course, but it is also a trap. The more secrets necessary to a security system, the more vulnerable it becomes.
To forestall attacks, security systems need to be small-scale, redundant, and compartmentalized. Rather than large, sweeping programs, they should be carefully crafted mosaics, each piece aimed at a specific weakness. The federal government and the airlines are spending millions of dollars, Schneier points out, on systems that screen every passenger to keep knives and weapons out of planes. But what matters most is keeping dangerous passengers out of airline cockpits, which can be accomplished by reinforcing the door.
Good security [which] is built in overlapping, cross-checking layers, to slow down attacks; it reacts limberly to the unexpected. Its most important components are almost always human. “Governments have been relying on intelligent, trained guards for centuries,” Schneier says. “They spot people doing bad things and then use laws to arrest them. All in all, I have to say, it’s not a bad system.”
Amory Lovins, at the Rocky Mountain Institute, is making these same points about our energy infrastructure.
The energy that runs America is brittle – easily shattered by accident or malice. That fragility frustrates the efforts of our Armed Forces to defend a nation that literally can be turned off by a handful of people. It poses, indeed, a grave and growing threat to national security, life, and liberty.
This danger comes not from hostile ideology but from misapplied technology. It is not a threat imposed on us by enemies abroad. It is a threat we have heedlessly – and needlessly – imposed on ourselves.
Many Americans’ most basic functions depend, for example, on a continuous supply of electricity. Without it, subways and elevators stall, factories and offices grind to a halt, electric locks jam, intercoms and televisions stand mute, and we huddle without light, heat, or ventilation. A brief faltering of our energy pulse can reveal – sometimes as fatally as to astronauts in a spacecraft – the hidden brittleness of our interdependent, urbanized-society. Yet that continuous electrical supply now depends on many large and precise machines, rotating in exact synchrony across half a continent, and strung together by an easily severed network of aerial arteries whose failure is instantly disruptive. The size, complexity, pattern, and control structure of these electrical machines make them inherently vulnerable to large-scale failures: a vulnerability which government policies are systematically increasing. The same is true of the technologies that deliver oil, gas; and coal to run our vehicles, buildings, and industries. Our reliance on these delicately poised energy systems has unwittingly put at risk our whole way of life.
He points out, in this document (pdf) that:
*Tightly coupled system: 20 years ago, U.S. had
a few months’ usable total storage, well-head-tocar;
refineries had 3 – 5 days, pipeline customers
5 – 10 days; generally far less now
*>50% of U.S. refinery capacity was in three
states (TX, LA, CA), >69% was in six states
*Refinery concentration and specialization have
increased markedly since 1981
*In 1978, sabotage of 77 refineries would cut cap.
by 2/3, “shatter” economy (GAO); takes one
RPG, wrench, rifle,…at each site
*~84% of U.S. interstate gas flowed from or
*A few people could shut off, for 1 y, 3/4 of gas
and oil supply to eastern U.S. in 1 night w/o
Lovins’ prescriptions are a little more extreme than the one’s I’d advocate today – not because I think he’s necessarily wrong, but because I think that a less-radical approach is both more politically attainable – but in a nutshell, his policy hierarchy looks like this:
Designing for resilience
* Fine-grained, modular structure
* Early fault detection
* Redundancy and substitutability
* Optional interconnection
* Hierarchical embedding
* Limited demands on social stability
His specific policy prescriptions are centered around:
* Dispersed Generation
* Demand-based Pricing
Basically, what he suggests is that we work to become intelligent about using energy (note that this isn’t the Hard Green ‘let’s all go live in agrarian villages’-type conservation, this is the let’s encourage fuel-efficient vehicles, rather than subsidizing the purchase of light trucks for passenger use, as we do today. Personal note: I needed a vehicle that had three rows of seats for trips with the three boys, plus storage behind the third seat for camping and ski gear, plus the ability to tow 1,500 pounds of trailer and racebike. In 2000, I had three options: Large SUV (Suburban, Excursion), Full-size van (Ford Econoline), or minivan (Honda Odyssey). I chose the Odyssey, which gets 24mpg in everyday use, tows the trailered racebike over Highway 14 to Rosamond without complaint, and has as much interior volume as a Suburban. But it’s easy to park, and handles better. If everyone who bought a SUV between 2000 and 2003 made the same decision, we’d have made a dent in the 6% exposure we have to Islamist energy.
Dispersed generation suggests that a strategy based on a fragile, complex, and undefendable energy infrastructure may not be the right way to go. The efficiencies of smaller package generators are increasing, and when combined with the flexibility of power-on-demand and the absence of transmission risk and loss, there can be some significant advantages to them. This suggests that nukes, which are by definition large and inflexible generators of power, may not be the best way to go. Note that I don’t have the ‘ohmigawd, uranium’ issues around nuclear power (which kills far fewer people per kilowatt-hour than, say, coal). But I do think that large-centralized plants aren’t where we should be putting our focus, and further that ramping down the economy in fissionables ought to be a good idea. But I’m not adamant about it.
Demand-based pricing is also a critical feature of the model, in which we simply charge the true cost of the peak-load supply at times when it must be brought online.
That’s a key point; building economic policies that attempt, as closely as possible to mirror the true cost of the goods purchased. (On the Wal-Mart issue, one issue I have is the lack of health coverage for a substantial number of their associates – coverage which I help pay for, even if I don’t shop there, because I pay for the public health care burden the employees impose through my taxes)
So here’s the mix of policies I’d support after a week of thought (obviously subject to change as I learn more from all the commenters who will pile on):
* Improve vehicle fuel efficiency by doing four things:
# Increasing CAFE standards, and setting a more-ambitious schedule of improvements;
# Defining light-duty trucks (SUV’s and pickups) clearly designed and sold for passenger use as passenger cars for CAFE and safety standard purposes;
# eliminating tax incentives to buy fuel-inefficient vehicles;
# explore tax credits for improvements in fuel efficiency in trucking (a large user of energy where there ought to be big incentives to save)
Note that I’d trade all these for phased-in increases in gas (and diesel) taxes (maybe we could implement Andrew Tobias’ notion of paying for a minimal vehicle insurance pool via a gas tax as well).
* Improve residential and commercial fuel efficiency through changes in building codes.
* Review of utility and building regulation to reduce the regulatory barriers to small-scale ‘package’ generation.
Note that this last will get me in trouble with a number of enviro types, who want the smaller power plants (like the one in Redondo Beach near me) shut down. They’d rather have electric cars and power plants in remote areas; but the true cost of that kind of overcentralized system is blackouts and an insecure infrastructure.