Energy Nirvana

8/10/09 – Congressional summer recess; thank God

Congress is said to be the world’s greatest deliberative body. Yet it is neither great, deliberative, nor of one body.

Mark Twain

For the next month Congress is either away at our peril or is away and cannot do us more harm. I’ll leave this up to you. In the meantime “We the People” need to be concerned about energy policy and the hope to achieve energy Nirvana.

Achieving Nirvana in energy usage has always been a goal of society. Regretfully, this goal has to face the reality of what the Laws of Thermodynamics allow. The current administration is no different in its hopes, in this case for a green energy economy, and in the holes in its assumptions of how to achieve this goal.

Bret Stephens delightfully described this in the 5/26/09 WSJ where Bret discussed the Gnomes’ from the TV cartoon show “South Park” approach to planning.

(At this point I must digress to admit to a certain affinity to Cartman and the gang from South Park in that the creators of this show are from the town I live in and I’m only 60 miles from this wonderfully irreverent place. South Park is real and an inspiration for all. Believe me.)

In this 1998 episode the gnomes were describing their long-range plan for stealing underwear.

Phase I: Collect underpants
Phase II: ?
Phase III: Profit

When asked to explain why is Phase II a question, the Gnomes answer was Phase III, profits.

With respect to Energy Policy it seems that these Gnomes are at work in DC.

Phase I: Inaugurate the era of “green” energy.
Phase II: Overturn the first and second law of thermodynamics.
Phase III: Carbon neutrality!

Laws of Thermodynamics

I. When mechanical work is transformed into heat or heat into work, the amount of work is always equivalent to the quantity of heat.

II. It is impossible by any continuous self-sustaining process for heat to be transferred from a colder to a hotter body.

So this is what Mother Nature has given mankind to work with. How efficiently we can convert heat into usable work? Wish as they might, Law I cannot be overturned, even by the decree of any Potentate or Grand Pooh Bah throughout history. Therefore, it is an issue of how to minimize the waste component of work.

Such efforts as reducing friction, using florescent light bulbs and even conservation actions such as not leaving one’s computer on 24/7 are obvious steps in the direction toward achieving Nirvana in energy.

Nevertheless, Adam Smith helps Mother Nature is supplying energy in spite of these laws when we can consider the cost/benefit of Nirvana. For example in some cases supplying energy that generates less BTUs than is used in its production (Laws I & II) can still be justified if it is the only supply available and the user can afford to pay for it.

Please note that I refer only to the user here and not the rest of society who may be asked to subsidize that unique user.

Physical Science and Political Science

The above discussion has come from the basis of physical science. This realm is made up of irrefutable laws that govern all existence. Mankind can only hope to understand these laws and live better with that understanding.

The case in point here is global warming and the perceived need for “green” energy. Global warming, just like shit, happens. In geologic time, it is a regular occurrence. It created the environment of lush biomass that turned into our endowment of oil, gas and coal. Scientists are still trying to fully understand this phenomena and the role mankind plays in it. They have some pretty good ideas, but not a definitive and clear understanding. Indeed, we may never reach that complete understanding. But that is not an excuse for the lack of action.

This is where Political Science comes in. This science is not limited by the lack of clairvoyance. Indeed, Political Science allows itself to leap to the grand conclusion without such complete information. It is expedient and allows the political class to justify its existence and, most importantly, its reelectability.

The primary problem is when these sciences tramp on the other’s turf. However, there is not a wall separating the two, but a respected low fence over which discussion can occur. Only with such a dialogue can informed, well-reasoned policy as possible be created.

Points to Ponder

  • As has been noted over the years, its just dumb to waste energy. Mankind should also minimize, to the extent that is economically reasonable, its carbon footprint. It just makes sense and is good business. Yet in spite of all of these actions global warming may still increase.
  • Is a physical and political science “partnership” possible and we live with such a reality?
  • This brings me to Weinberg’s Corollary which states that, “An expert is a person who avoids the small errors, while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.
  • Is Energy Nirvana yet another grand fallacy that we are being swept toward (or phallacy as discussed in the 7/4/09 Point on price spikes)?
  • Has Mark Twain’s ghost come back to observe the current Congress, or has his insight always been so right on?
  • And who did kill Kenny?

Click here for more information about Confessions of an Energy Price Forecaster: A 12 Step Program to Enlightenment

Click here for John Tobin's full bio

PennEnergy Microblogs are designed to provide visitors with a handful of rich, closely-related, point-in-time energy insights by a single blogger. The purpose of PennEnergy microblogs is to initiate a conversation with readers about contemporary issues in the Energy industry. Microblogs are perfect for contributors who do not want to be tied down to a weekly blogging schedule, but who have solid, noncommercial, multi-installment content to offer.

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