Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Energy Equation: Practical Fact vs. Political Fiction

Sometimes you look at what the bureaucrats in Washington are spending your money on and want to cry. If what they spend was based on the profit motive, none of the projects would be undertaken. If government would stick to the basics for which it was founded and let the private sector fight it out for the ultimate profit, the nation, as a whole would be better off and technological advances would go through the roof.

In this article, calling the GM Chevrolet Volt, "the first coal-powered transport vehicle since the decline of the steam locomotive" is a gem.

Politically motivated energy solutions continue to exacerbate the problems they were supposed to counteract.

In the early 1980s, American car-makers were refining the design strategies necessary to meet the mileage requirements imposed by the government. One of the Big Three automakers' programs called for the use of a small four-cylinder engine equipped with a supercharger -- a mechanism that intermittently forces air into the combustion chamber to provide more complete combustion and greater power when needed.

Following a planning meeting with one of the key suppliers, a design engineer was asked the inevitable question: Is this going to work? He smiled and replied that although the mileage standards would be met, it might be more practical to consider all of the energy inputs that go into the manufacture of an automobile engine. He noted that the metal has to be mined or reclaimed from scrap, then smelted. Depending on the engine component, it then requires forming, casting, machining, and other operations prior to final assembly. There is also energy usage for transportation at virtually every step of the process, as well as indirect costs related to plant operation. He noted that with proper care, the typical six- or eight-cylinder engine could have a useful life that frequently exceeded 200,000 miles. Unfortunately, the supercharged smaller engines would run so hot that many would not see 100,000 miles. The end result: the improved mileage standards resulted in a net expenditure of far more energy.

If one had to pick the single best (or worst) example of the Obama administration's inability to view the big picture when it comes to energy-related matters, one could hardly find a better example than the much-vaunted and publicized Chevrolet Volt. A totally electric automobile with a 60-mile range that can be recharged in the owner's garage or at remote recharging stations, the Volt is so expensive that the government has had to create a subsidy program to incentivize buyers. Because of its zero emissions, it has been touted as the car of the future and a major step on the road to solving our environmental problems.

Once again, the reality is quite different. Most of our domestic electrical energy supply derives from coal-burning power plants, and in view of the administration's refusal to aggressively pursue nuclear power, that is likely to be the case into the short- and mid-term future. Seen in this light, the Chevrolet Volt is, in reality, a coal-powered automobile. If one were to produce a graphic illustrating how much coal would be required to generate the electricity that would power the Volt every day over the course of -- say -- a ten-year life, it would become apparent that the actual carbon footprint is huge.

Once again, the equation does not add up, and the administration that purports to be on the side of the angels when it comes to the environment has produced, through its General Motors subsidiary, the first coal-powered transport vehicle since the decline of the steam locomotive.

Until and unless the administration is willing to solicit and heed the advice and guidance of the private-sector professionals with the technical and business experience to help set practical policies, the equation is not going to balance. Instead, we will continue to overpay for impractical non-solutions.

Read full American Thinker article here.

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