Sounds like a dumb question, right? But this question leads to a much more critical one: Why can’t we do proper long-term planning? And by long-term, yes, I mean 100 years. Or 200 years. Or perhaps longer.
It should be obvious why our government does a lousy job planning long-term. The top priority of our elected officials is—no surprise—getting re-elected, and they get re-elected based on short-term results. Big Oil and Gas—entities that spend millions lobbying those same politicians—have two priorities: first, to produce good short-term financial results, and second, to preserve their status quo dominance. Thus, they are not particularly interested in supporting solar, or other, alternate sources of energy.
I’m not for pushing solar power to the exclusion of other alternatives. There are places and situations where hydroelectric power makes sense; where biofuel is cost effective; where even a sleeper like tidal power generation might work. Having a healthy mix of energy sources is an essential part of a good long-term plan.
But many of those alternatives have serious downsides. To greatly oversimplify the discussion, solar power generation has only one: cost. So what we must do is treat it like any other new technology: many different approaches need to be funded, developed, and engineered. The bottom line is: it will take decades to determine which solar power technologies will be cost competitive and environmentally sound.
And yes, there will be a place for oil and gas in the total picture. There will be applications where oil and gas offer the best tradeoff of cost, convenience, and environmental impact. But, as alternatives become viable, demand for oil and gas will inevitably decrease.
Regarding solar power, there are a few geopolitical points that have not received enough attention:
- It will make the United States, Europe, etc, less dependent on oil and gas provided by questionable regimes. OK, that one is obvious.
- It will be make China less dependent on coal, oil, and gas, and, perhaps very long term, reduce their incentive to monopolize Africa’s natural resources. I think their leadership has already realized this, but China is like a humongous ship: it’s going to take a long, long, long time to turn itself around.
- It will help current oil and gas producing countries—again, very long term—by allowing them to ration their supplies over centuries, not decades.
Another geopolitical factor to consider: If solar power is successful long-term, does that increase or decrease the level of anger that now drives Islamic-based terrorists?