From Oil Sands and Cornfields to Server Farms: Principles to Consider When Formulating Energy Policy

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Date(s) - 7/17/200612:00 am

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“The energy future is bleak and is likely to grow bleaker in the decade ahead.  We must rapidly adjust our economies to a condition of chronic stringency in traditional energy supplies.”

So said our nation’s first Secretary of Energy, James Schlesinger, in August 1979 at the National Press Club.  Few issues have as long and storied a history in the modern affairs of public policy as does “energy.”  Few subjects have the capacity to engender policies so breathtakingly disconnected from reality.  Compared to two-and-a-half decades ago, the U.S. economy looks quite different and is over twice the size.  But some things haven’t changed; specifically the immutable laws of physics, and basic principals of economics.  The nation wrestles once more with energy policies, from replanting corn fields for alcohol, to reviving nuclear power, to genuflecting to the chimera of energy independence.  A brief exploration of core natural and economic realities might usefully inform the policy process – realities that may indeed be completely ignored, but that will nonetheless dictate what the energy future holds.

Mark Mills, a physicist, is Chairman & CTO of ICx Technologies, a co-founding partner in the venture fund Digital Power Capital, and founding member of the research firm Digital Power Group.  He is co-author of The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We’ll Never Run Out of Energy (paperback release April 2006).

 

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