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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Guest Column: The future of energy

 
 

Drill baby drill. That’s my response to the question, “What will be the future of energy?” Considering my field of research this response may be perplexing, but it’s really all in the way you pose the question.
The immediate future in energy will be much of the same. And why shouldn’t it be? The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal and natural gas.
However, if you ask me what the future should be, my response is vastly different. Whether the operative verb phrase is “should be” or “will be,” the issue is really about the question’s time horizon.
Many people love to answer the “will be” question by painting visions of electric cars and high-speed electric trains. In that world, wind and solar provide all your electrical energy needs. Petroleum is used only for jet propulsion — until the mini-nuclear reactors can take care of that, too. Oh, and nuclear fuel is infinitely reusable. No need for waste disposal in Yucca Mountain.
It’s actually a pretty nice future when you start to think about it.
But then reality creeps in and obstacles arise, and our road to the energy future doesn’t look as smooth any more. So we resort back to drill baby drill.
I was born in Odessa, Texas, and am the son of a rough neck. I get drill baby drill. It’s comfortable. It’s known. But unfortunately, as an engineer, I have a nagging conceptual understanding of the fossil fuel cycle. And when we hit peak production, simple economics says that the decrease in supply coupled with unyielding demand will result in a spike in energy prices.
So who is taking care of that energy future? Energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens says the U.S. is the only develoed country without an energy policy. I disagree. The market is our policy.
I love the market. Before I was an engineer, I was an economist. So I find reassurance that the right price signals will emerge from the market and the Jetsons-like future of energy will in fact come to fruition.
What I don’t find comfort in is the divergence of capitalism and nationalism. When the U.S. was the only player in the game, the success of capitalism equaled the success seen domestically. In fluid markets pertaining to energy, that’s not the case anymore.
By no means am I advocating protectionism but I am advocating for advanced thinking and investment. Governmental interference in the market can be very anti-capitalistic but can prove very pro-nationalistic. Just ask China. From currency manipulations to extremely large subsidies, these anti-capitalistic policies have proven very fruitful for the Chinese in many industrial markets. In the energy realm, China went from a non-existent wind turbine component industry to the leader in global production in five years using anti-capitalistic tactics like local content regulations.
I’m not picking on China. I’m praising the country — not for anti-capitalist policies but for pro-nationalistic ones.
In the electricity industry, HPL (now Reliant) and TXU made anti-competitive maneuvers to profit in California and Texas in the advent of electrical deregulation. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is notorious for such measures in the oil industry. The market holds them as responsible as it did Wall Street bankers with large compensation packages during the financial crisis.
Government shouldn’t have to live by a double standard. Policies that are considered “visionary” and “ahead of the curve” by the private sector shouldn’t be scrutinized as “anticompetitive” and “intrusions” by the public sector. Wayne Gretzky was once asked why he was so dominant in his time. He responded that he never tried to get to where the puck was, but rather where it was going to be. Positioning is, in fact, going to be what overcomes the energy obstacles of the future.
Energy is going to be drill baby drill for the near term, no doubt. And after a certain time horizon, it will look very Jetson-esque. We are the ones who get to decide how long that time horizon is.
The rock wall is coming. We can start building an incline now or wait for the market to send us a signal that we have a serious wall to claim. Ponder that.
Until then, drill baby drill.
Omar Urquidez is an electrical engineering doctoral student

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