Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) unveiled impressive plans this week on energy and competitiveness policy, but they need to act now to save federal energy research from collapsing.
Specifically, McCain should call the White House and Obama should call Democratic Congressional leaders to make sure that federal scientific research budgets aren't flat-lined for another year.
Funding cuts are especially dire for science programs at the Department of
Energy, resulting in layoffs at national laboratories and cuts in university
research in the physical sciences.
I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Kondracke on both points. I don't believe that either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama has an altogether impressive energy policy. Beyond that extolling the virtues of increased alternative energy research is fool hearty in my opinion. That's because energy independence has never been about a lack of research in my opinion.
The last few years have brought a renewed focus on energy independence, and the automakers have responded. They have created a plethora of automobiles that one can term alternative fuels, or flex fuels. There are cars that run on hydrogen, natural gas, and even electric powered cars. Yet, the most popular alternative fuel car is the so called hybrid. Of course, this is not actually an alternative fueled car. This car is fueled by gasoline made out of oil. It just so happens that the car can switch seamlessly from gas to electricity and thus they generally get better gas mileage.
So, why is the hybrid all the rage and the hydrogen powered car obscure? After all, hydrogen is cleaner, more efficient, gets better gas mileage, and most importantly the Saudis get zero dollars when we buy one. To answer this question we must ask ourselves how we would go about filling up a hydrogen powered car. In fact, the last time I attended the Chicago Auto Show that's exactly the question I asked to the representative at Nissan when their hydrogen powered car was still a concept. They told me that there are government sponsored hydrogen fuel stations. In Illinois there were about fifty. That's about how many gas stations there are in my neighborhood in Chicago.
In fact, it would be so hard far the owner of a hydrogen powered car to fill up regularly that to mass market them, the automakers make them flex fueled as well. In other words, these autos run either on gas from oil or hydrogen. As such, the owner of the car would be able to fill up at a regular gas station as well as at these government sponsored hydrogen fuel stations.
Now, why in the world would the federal or state government need to get into the business of of offering hydrogen fuel stations? Wouldn't this be the sort of things the oil companies would be a better fit for? After all, wouldn't it make sense for oil companies to put at least one tank in the corner for all the automobiles that run on alternative fuels? So, why don't they do it? I know they can afford the research into creating such fuel tanks.
In my opinion, they don't do it because the oil companies have no intention of allowing anything besides autos run on gas generated from oil to be mass marketed. That's because they are making far too much money in that sort of gasoline.
That's why research into alternative energy is nothing more than fool's gold. We've been researching alternative energy for years. The technology has long been out there. What no one can figure out is how to mass market it to the consumer. In order to do that, a place to fill up has to be nearly as readily available as it is to fill up a traditional car. Only the oil companies can provide that outlet. All the research in the world is not going to create alternative energy fueling stations on every corner like they have with traditional gas stations.
Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. All the research in the world is not going to resolve the real problem. We have a cartel of about eight companies and they are all getting really wealthy selling one type of fuel. They have no motivation or reason to try and offer any other variation to the market. It is nearly impossible for anyone to challenge them. Until they decide to enter other markets, all the alternative energy research in the world will do nothing to solve the fundamental problem.