Energy that is Safe, Secure and Affordable
Our dependence on fossil fuels for energy production has been a growing problem for decades. The answers must be found in sound science, sound economics, technological innovation, and long-term planning. Attacks on science-based energy and environmental policies by the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress are dangerous and counterproductive.
Directing energy policy is a complex and broad subject, requiring substantial economic and technological input, as it even seemingly minor policy shifts have significant impacts on our economy and environment. As a scientist and businessman, Bill Foster has the knowledge and experience we need to face the environmental and energy challenges of the 21st Century.
We must aggressively combat climate change, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and promote cleaner and more economical sources of energy. In the near term we must do what we can, within the bounds of what is economically sensible and technically feasible, to begin making progress in these efforts. In the longer term, we must develop new energy technologies that have the best chance of succeeding in the market place.
Funding long-term energy research is crucial to our economic competitiveness and national security. However during the last decade, we spent more money on the War in Iraq than we have invested in energy research and development throughout the entire history of our country. The Trump Administration's proposal to transfer $54B from the the discretionary budget to military would have devastating consequences for national research priorities.
A Comprehensive Energy Strategy
Bill Foster’s principles for a comprehensive energy policy:
- Competently manage our existing fossil fuels programs, so that they serve the needs of our country rather than the special interests of international oil companies.
- Immediately perform all energy efficiency upgrades that pay for themselves over the lifetime of the equipment – and that are a net plus for our economy.
- Expand federal R&D programs on transformative pre-commercial energy research.
- Incentivize public-private partnerships for technologies approaching commercialization, after subjecting them to rigorous economic analysis to map out their path to success without subsidies.
With these principles, competently executed, we can have an energy program that is good for our economy in both the short term and long term.
As a member of the House Science Committee, Bill is at the forefront of opposition to House Republicans' efforts to attack the science behind Climate Change. Bill’s position on global warming rests on three principles:
- The observed global warming is dangerous and real.
- At least half of the observed global warming is human-caused, so action is imperative.
- It is our responsibility to fix this problem in the way that does the least damage our economic growth in the U.S. and throughout the world.
It is crucial that we get a more accurate scientific picture of the situation as soon as possible. If the global warming problem must be corrected within 10 years, this will be much more expensive to “fix” than if we have 70 years to correct the problem. Thus a high priority should be given to measuring and computer-modeling of the Earth’s climate, so that the effects of corrective actions – as well as the price of inaction – can be properly understood. The Trump Administration's proposed cuts to budgets to study climate science are likely to have enormous long-run costs to our country.
Management of Existing Fossil Energy Programs
Recent technological developments in hydro-fracturing underground formations have dramatically increased U.S. reserves of natural gas. This will encourage a continuing shift to natural gas over the next few decades, which will have both economic and environmental benefits as long as the drilling is done in an environmentally responsible manner. Ultimately, however, we cannot drill our way out of the energy crisis.
Thus it is time to invest in clean energy alternatives like solar power, deep-drilled geothermal power, wind energy, and sensible biofuels. The recently established “ARPA-E” program – modeled on the DARPA program that produced the Internet and the GPS system – is already yielding promising new technologies such as grid-scale batteries that allow intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar to be used efficiently with variable consumer loads.
Maintaining a skilled workforce and knowledge base: With the coming retirement of the Baby Boomer and “Sputnik” generation, energy sector professionals will be in increasingly short supply. The lack of competent technical management and regulation appears to have been a significant factor in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. We must make education and training in technical areas of energy production and regulation a national priority, and we must have a plan to address any shortfall in the government and private sector.
There are a large number of energy efficiency improvements and equipment upgrades that reduce Carbon pollution and pay for themselves over the lifetime of the equipment – in economists’ terms, have “Positive Net Present Value” (NPV). Many of these have not been done in the free market for a variety of reasons: so-called “market failures,” lack of capital, or simply lack of industry knowledge about best practices. Government programs can reduce these market failures, save consumers money, and produce a cleaner environment.
The Republicans' War on Efficient Lighting is (so to speak) illuminating. For years, Bill listened to Republicans like Rep. Michelle Bachman and Governor (now Secretary of Energy) Rick Perry complain about "unelected bureaucrats telling what kind of electric bulbs to buy". In fact, by setting sensible and achievable efficiency standards the federal government accelerated by years the transition to efficient LED lighting, which is already saving Americans billions of dollars annually in electrical costs. Now, even the Dallas-based American Lighting Association says: "Today, the LED bulb is the most efficient, long lasting, and often the most suitable for home lighting. The new models look very similar to traditional bulbs. The slightly higher up-front cost of these bulbs is mitigated by their very long life."
Reducing Carbon Emissions while Strengthening our Economy
What does an optimal energy policy look like? Opportunities for efficiency improvements have been studied by both the McKinsey & Co. as well as the National Academy of Sciences, with similar results. The bottom line is that large classes of these investments are good for both the economy and the environment. McKinsey estimates that with an investment of 500 billion dollars over the next 10 years, we can save our economy 1.2 Trillion dollars. This savings is more than enough to support a historically overdue increase in energy research, while still not damaging our economy. This is exactly the approach that Bill Foster supports.
The chart below provides an economic analysis of the cost of Carbon pollution abatement with various technologies. Items at left have negative cost, i.e. they are good for our economy.
Allocation and Management of US Energy Resources for Research and Development
Our limited dollars for basic energy research, technology development, and commercial deployment must be invested wisely. Continuously evolving technological and political developments should cause us to rebalance our investments in emerging technologies. The ARRA act and other investments Bill voted for provided a large increase in energy R&D that is prioritized using both science and economics. Here are some representative examples where Bill believes increased effort has been warranted:
- High Performance Battery Research. The JCESR collaboration led by Argonne National Laboratory has made great progress towards its goal of designing and building a battery with 5x the energy storage and 5x lower cost than conventional lithium-ion batteries. This will mean the difference between electric cars with a driving range of 100 miles and 500 miles, and will make electric cars and long-distance drone deliveries a practical reality.
- Grid-Scale Energy Storage: One promising example of developments funded by both the JCESR program the ARPA-E program that Bill voted for was the development of grid-scale batteries that leapfrog existing battery technology in energy density, cost, efficiency and battery lifetime. These will help solve two of the most challenging problems in using renewable power in our energy grid: the intermittency of sources like wind and solar power, and the transient loading from consumer demand.
- Geothermal Energy Production: The potential for deep-drilled geothermal energy extraction is an exciting prospect that is scientifically valid but requires demonstration of engineering and economic feasibility. In principle, this could provide many thousands of years’ of energy supply for the entire U.S.
- Hybrid Thermo-Solar Energy with Storage: This uses concentrated solar power to heat molten salts which are then stored in tanks for days to weeks before being used to boil water to run a steam turbine. In the rare cases that the tank runs out, a low cost natural gas burner can temporarily substitute. In other variants, solar energy preheating is used to boost the output of a gas turbine. This is an area where the basic technology exists and public-private partnerships are required to demonstrate the economics.
The economic success of agriculture is greatly affected by our nation’s energy and agricultural policies. Unfortunately, Congress has been erratic at best in its enthusiasm for biofuels. One of the main causes is the uncertainty and misinformation about the carbon footprint of corn-based ethanol, arising from the use of studies based on decade-old ethanol plant design, old corn yield and fertilizer usage data, and lack of analysis of the value of co-products such as DDG’s. Modern analyses of current practice indicate that corn-based ethanol emits less than half the greenhouse gasses of gasoline. When one factors in the projected doubling of corn yields over the next 20 years due to improved genetic traits, corn-based ethanol will be a strong economic competitor even to future cellulosic ethanol technology. That is why Bill Foster supports extending the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) and biodiesel tax credit, along with increasing the ethanol blend wall for cars from 10% to 15%. Responsibly increasing our use of biofuels will create new jobs, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and help protect our environment.
As a scientist, Bill Foster believes nuclear power can be made safe, and has been made safe in the United States. Waste disposal remains a technically possible but politically unsolved problem..
What is missing in the nuclear debate is an accurate understanding of the costs of nuclear compared to other low-carbon energy sources. In the short term, it appears that low natural gas prices from hydro-fracturing technology may make the capital investment in new nuclear plants hard to justify – even at sites where the licensing and environmental permitting is already in place. In the longer term, we should press ahead with advanced technologies such as inherently safe High-Temperature Gas Reactors with high Carnot efficiency and noncorrosive coolants, small modular reactor designs, inertial and magnetically confined fusion energy, and accelerator-driven Thorium cycle energy production. The balance of effort in these areas should be continually refined based on best available knowledge technical progress and projected economic feasibility.