Energy Independence and the Slow Energy Movement

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Happy Monday. Americans are back in the office after the July 4th weekend – Independence Day in the United States. It serves as a reminder of the effort and focus of American colonialists to break away from English rule over 230 years ago. They did not do it on their own, it took some help, in this case from the French.

It might be a bit trite for me to try and draw a correlation between political and energy independence, but I’m going to. Around the world countries should use their most patriotic day as a measuring point to see just how independent they are. In recent years there have been numerous examples of how external energy supply factors have jeopardized a country’s internal economy. Gazprom, the Russian oil and gas giant, held Europe in its spell as it considered curtailing supply . As much as the rest of the world operates on a free market, OPEC still holds a tight choker on oil supply and as expected, oil’s price tends to cooperate obediently .

Much like the slow food movement which suggests we should savor our food and take into account where it comes from, I put forth we should aspire to something akin to a slow energy movement. We should consider where our energy is coming from, and think about the impact associated with delivering it to us. As I drove along 1-95 in northern Maine last week leading up to Independence Day it boggled my mind how the local gas stations and the cars driving along these isolated rural roads were being serviced by petroleum products extracted from wells in the Middle East – over 10,000 kilometers away.* It doesn’t make any sense to be so dependent – I am a proponent of a free market economy that allow for goods and services to be traded between areas with different comparative advantages, but I would suggest that there is a more holistic approach to energy.

By sourcing fossil fuels from the opposite corner of the earth there are many implications that you have likely already considered; namely the pollution and emissions involved with the extraction, processing and transportation of the fuel. What other options are there? Well, many frankly – and they stem from analyzing what energy source is most adequately suited for the environment you are in. There are many benefits to the global economy, but sourcing materials internationally has some critical downfalls.

By becoming wholly dependent on the supply of something we cannot control locally, we are insulated from the impact of the processes involved. If we were to source our food from our own backyard, we would be much more inclined to use sustainable farming practices. Likewise, were the citizens of Maine to depend on bio-diesel from their own forests or wind from their shores they would have an instant incentive to become more energy efficient to ensure that they had enough energy to accomplish their needs. Ultimately it would help insure them against the economic predicaments of soaring heating bills and ballooning fishing input costs. Likewise, Californian residents should continue to embrace the use of plentiful solar power to reduce their dependence on imported natural gas * – and once they recognize this potential and begin to achieve economies of scale they will embrace solar energy to power their cars through plug in hybrids and much, much more.

Given current economics (we still operate as if oil cost $30/barrel) we do not feel the effects of the energy we mine and pump if it is done a half a world away – we need to be more cognizant of the inefficiency of bringing a technology to an area that cannot support it locally. No one would consider building a hydro plant in the middle of the Mojave Desert – yet we continue to accept using oil for transportation and heating where oil does not exist. Different regions and environments are better suited for different technologies; if we concentrate on sourcing our energy locally we will be increasingly motivated to ensure that they are sustainable and renewable.

It takes foresight and discipline, but we must price the complete environmental and economic impact of sourcing and transporting energy from elsewhere through carbon tax penalties and other schemes to ensure that these renewable and locally sourced technologies will make economic sense now, not only when prices spike or supply is constrained.

Just as the Americans that sought independence 238 years ago needed help from others, no one country or region can seek energy independence on its own. The true benefit of global trade for the clean-technology and slow energy movement will be in the sharing of people, ideas, financial instruments and technologies – the raw materials should be sourced sustainably and locally where possible.

Just a little independence day rant, hope it makes you think a bit.

-Ian Thomson

*The United States does not receive all of it’s oil from the Middle East; the top five producers of US Imported Oil are Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. **60% of California’s electricity mix comes from fossil fuels – 45.2% from natural gas and 16.6% from coal.

PS: Want to do some volunteering? It is a great way to get to know people and network. As always, there is lots going on at the Clean Tech Open. Check out the following list of volunteer opportunities and contact Katie at KRoberts (at) cacleantech.com with any interest you have in helping out.

Resource Directory Populating: Be one of the first to build out all the information we will provide to the clean tech world. Research whatever areas interest you, interact with participating partners and sponsors, and be on the cutting edge of this new resource.

Mentor Program Right Hand: Organize the mentors’ schedules and match them up with the best Finalist companies. This is the perfect chance to get an inside scoop on the Mentor program.

Event Prep: Help our Events Chair prep for upcoming events and plan for the future. A great way to get some event experience and meet the sponsors behind the Clean Tech Open.

Grant Research and Writing: Have grant writing experience? Know someone who is looking to make a career move towards this area? Let us know!

Renewable Energy Symposium: Volunteers needed for setup, registration and tear down. July 21st from 5:30 to 8:30pm at Google in Mountain View.

Energy Efficiency Symposium: Volunteers needed for setup, registration and tear down. July 30th from 5:30 to 8:30pm at PG&E in San Francisco.

Can’t find anything here that is up your alley? Contact Katie for many more opportunities to get involved!

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  • http://www.10percentsolution.com Kristen

    Ian,

    Great correlation. It’s so sad that for most of America, gas is an inelastic product, which directly contributes to our inability to be independent. The old days of finding an alternative plan (i.e., fleeing to America) and declaring freedom are on hiatus. Hopefully, they will resurrect soon.

    All the best,
    Kristen