Can CleanTech Really Help Address Oil Challenges?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the biggest energy challenges now facing both industry and society at large relate to oil. About once a week, it seems that some event — Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq conflict, rattling sabers from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, OPEC meetings — sends the oil markets into a frenzy, with oil prices bouncing around above $60/bbl for several months now. For really the first extended period since the late 1970’s, energy issues actually hold something more than a trivial sliver of the collective mindshare of the U.S. Funny how spending $50 to fill up an SUV gets people to worrying about oil.
The CleanTech community has been quick to seize upon this increased consciousness about energy to advance their messages. In many ways, this is a good thing: more Americans need to become more knowledgeable and cognizant of their energy decisions and alternatives. However, as an advocate and follower of the CleanTech industries, I am concerned about the long-term negative impact from statements that are much more hyperbole than factual. People get downright mad when they find they have been misled. So, I wrote an article expressing my concerns.

Basically, my point is that reducing reliance on imported oil can be accomplished by energy efficiency technologies (e.g., hybrids) and behaviors (e.g., using public transport) and by direct substitution away from conventional oil to transportation fuels that are derived from abundant resources in the U.S. (e.g., biofuels, coal, shale). CleanTech technologies and ventures that serve this function can and will help address our oil challenges. However, no matter how much the ardent supporters of renewable energy may wish to the contrary, unless and until there is a direct linkage between the electricity markets and the transportation sector, increased adoption of solar and wind energy won’t make any meaningful dent in our oil import requirements. To the extent that solar and wind advocates keep hammering their misinformed and misleading message, their credibility will be lastingly tarnished. And that will be a bad thing for the CleanTech community at large.

1 reply
  1. Malcolm
    Malcolm says:

    Hi Richard,I'm happy for biofuels but wind can replace oil too. A lot of oil is used for home heating. This could be replaced by ground coupled heat exchange powered by wind turbines.

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