TOP SCIENTIST NOTES BIG GOOD, BIG BAD IN THE PICKENS PLAN
Energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens’ energy plan, the one that has become a regular feature of TV’s commercial breaks this summer, proposes to end the U.S. addiction to oil. NewEnergyNews recently obtained a PowerPoint presentation from Brent P. Nelson, a veteran U.S. scientist in a top position at one of the Department of Energy (DOE)’s most important research laboratories, assessing the Pickens Plan.
Nelson, who confidentially released the assessment on the condition it is understood to be his own expert opinion and not the official position of his therefore unnamed DOE lab, finds great benefit and great danger in Pickens’ proposals.
The Pickens Plan has 2 parts, each involving a separate energy source. It would use wind energy as 20% of U.S. electricity and shift the natural gas the U.S. now uses for electricity to fuel compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles.
The summary of the good points Nelson sees in the Pickens Plan: (1) Investing in the development of wind energy, (2) reducing the use of natural gas to generate electricity, (3) the acknowledgement by an oil man that “we can’t drill our way out,” and (4) the need for a U.S. national energy plan.
The summary of the problems he has with it: (1) Using natural gas for transportation, (2) substituting drilling for oil with drilling for gas, and (3) using natural gas for transportation.
The first lines NewEnergyNews posted about the plan were these, on July 12:
“Here’s the thing: Oil explorer and corporate entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens is pointing in the right direction. He’s shaken a lot of oil industry fossil fools mired in 1950s thinking. He sees clearly what’s happening in wind and he’s all over it.
“He’s had this obsession with Compressed Natural Gas cars for years and it still doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out. Natural gas and liquified natural gas (LNG) are more likely to be a bridge to an electric grid powered by New Energies from the wind, the sun and the ocean. Transportation is more likely to transition from nonfood crop- and algae-biofuels and plug-in hybrids to all electric vehicles.
”But Pickens deserves a lot of credit for stimulating debate. He got more people talking about New Energy in conservative, fossil fuel-oriented corners of the media world than anybody has since Al Gore.”
Nelson’s take on Pickens’ plan differs primarily from NewEnergyNews' take in that he has run the numbers and sees a coming peak gas crisis that could be as dire and economically burdensome for the nation as the peak oil crisis the U.S. is passing through right now.
Nelson: “Natural gas is our next crisis…we’ve already used ~1/2 of our domestic gas…”
Nelson points out the unique value natural gas has as a heating fuel: “No other fuel can heat your home as cleanly or efficiently!!!” Using it as a vehicle fuel is squandering a dwindling resource that is “…precious for our children and grandchildren.”
Like NewEnergyNews, Nelson sees the future of transportation coming from electric vehicles and sees the dwindling natural gas supplies as too precious to be squandered on electricity generation or transportation: “Natural gas, as a space-heating fuel, has almost no alternatives…”
Because of his sense of urgency about the need to preserve natural gas supplies, Nelson describes the natural gas dimension of Pickens’ plan as "immoral."
As the election season gathers momentum and the fall TV viewing season arrives, it may be hard to distinguish among the kinds of immorality trumpeted during the commercial breaks that shoulder aside T. Boone's diatribes. Nelson's conclusions about the Pickens Plan are worth keeping in mind. They show how a TV spot or an energy plan can have both some truth and something more insidious.
The Pickens Plan (click to enlarge)
Why T. Boone Pickens’ Energy Plan Is Seriously Flawed
Brent P. Nelson, August 6, 2008 (PowerPoint Presentation)
Brent P. Nelson, veteran research scientist, top national laboratory; T. Boone Pickens, energy entrepreneur/author, The Pickens Plan; The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Nelson offers a unique and powerful assessment of what is good and what is bad about Boone Pickens’ widely heralded plan to (1) develop the wind energy resources of the Midwest to power the national electricity grid and (2) use U.S. natural gas resources as compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel for vehicles to (3) displace dependence on oil imports.
- Pickens debuted his plan with much fanfare in July and continues to use his considerable wealth for media time to push his ideas to the public.
- Nelson created his PowerPoint assessment of the Pickens Plan in August and it has just been passed to NewEnergyNews.
- A DOE study released in Spring 2008 affirmed the practicality of the U.S. wind energy industry’s announced plan to provide 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030.
- U.S.: Now obtains 1-to-2% of its electricity from wind energy.
- U.S.: Now has approximately 150,000 CNG-fueled vehicles.
- World: Now has 7-to-8 million CNG-fueled vehicles.
- Pickens’ premises are that the U.S. spends $700 billion yearly to import oil, wind could replace most of the natural gas used to generate electricity and that gas could be used as CNG to fuel U.S. vehicles.
- U.S. natural gas supplies: 20.5% to residential heating, 13.0% to commercial heating, 28.8% to industrial uses, 29.8% to electricity generation, 7.8% to gas fuels and 0.1% to fuel vehicles.
- In the less hopeful evaluations, the U.S. may have only 23 years of natural gas reserves remaining. In the most optimistic evaluations, there could be almost a half-century of reserves (which is no volume on which to base an energy plan).
- By Nelson's calculations, natural gas as source of supply for the electrical grid can be considered little more than a bridge to New Energy.
- Carl Pope, veteran environmentalist and Executive Director of the Sierra Club, recently suggested CNG might be an interim solution for truck fuel.
From Nelson. (click to enlarge)
- Nelson, on why Pickens’ plan for the use of U.S. natural gas resources is “immoral”: “(1) Steals this precious and unique resource from future generations. (2) Accelerates our impending gas energy crisis. (3) Replaces our dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign natural gas. (4) Delays our needed transition to transportation technologies not using liquid-fuels for moving people on the ground.”
- Nelson’s “more rational plan”: “Decrease fossil fuels” and “Increase renewables: solar, wind, biodiesel, etc. and develop electric transportation”