Too Boldly Into the Future?

Everyone from Al Gore to George W. Bush is publicly supportive of developing new energy technologies, but you sometimes wonder if they’re really talking about same thing. They’re not. To understand the different policies you need to differentiate between the boldest and the most practical areas of energy research.

Breakthroughs
When talking energy advancement most people envision a cold fusion style breakthrough. This type of breakthrough would have the potential to just flat out replace traditional methods of energy production, sort of like in SimCity where you reach a certain year and start building different power plants. Sadly there’s no guarantee we’ll see anything at all similar to this scenario in our lifetimes.

Advancements
Energy advancements would involve overcoming the battery of technical hurdles that could make a big difference in either production efficiency or pollution reduction. This type of innovation would really help us move forward and is usually based on real science that isn’t yet commercially viable. There are serious people that plan on making their fortunes on these technologies and they’ll publicly say they’re five or ten years from making it a reality. Sadly some of these advancements, such as Cellulosic ethanol, have been five years away for a decade or longer.

Improvements
Energy improvements involve existing and commercially viable technology that we’re reasonably sure could be put in place in the next few years. Sadly these types of invests have been ignored and put off for decades.

The basic dynamics of each of these technologies categories is pretty well known. Bush loved funding stuff that might begin to solve global warming as early as 2050, as late as never. Additionally to fund the most effective long term research you need to focus on general science, which many leaders won’t do. Improvement type innovations, like a smart grid, just never seem to capture policy makers imagination even through they’re demonstrably more useful then sending a manned mission to mars. Everybody remember Katie Couric asking Obama about insulating houses with Stimulus money as if it were the dumbest thing ever?

We’re moving in the right direction in terms of balance, but we need keep focused on where our tax dollars are going, or else we’ll end up funding defunct science because it’s based in some Congressman’s district.

-Chris

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