New Book Gives Good Arguments On Using Fossil Fuels for Power

July 2010 Vol. 237 No. 7

Carol Freedenthal, Contributing Editor

In the dawn of the “green” energy era, proponents of using fossil fuels for energy and power sources strike a “mother lode” of facts, data, and logic for the continued use of these materials. While many in the public sector and even some in the technical arena are fervently in favor of going with green power, author Robert Bryce in his new book, Power Hungry, makes a cogent argument why fossil fuels should be around for some time to come. Sure, their use presents certain deficiencies, but the social and economic benefits they bring are so much greater and needed by society! Equally as important, it is just not that easy to replace them!

Bryce is an avowed advocate of global and domestic energy issues. Living in Austin, TX where he worked for The Austin Chronicle for 12 years, he is now the Managing Editor of the online magazine, Energy Tribune. A previous book, Gusher Of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence, was published a few years ago. The focus was on the desire for energy independence and its benefits and dangers. His technical expertise and writing skills provide an extra advantage in looking at the current energy business – a huge global business of about $5 trillion per year – and recommending a course of action for the country.

In his new book, he makes a marked distinction that he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. His criticism of the Bush administration is just as severe and deep as it is of the Obama “wrong-way Corrigan” approach to current energy matters. What he is seeking in Power Hungry, with its extended title, The Myths of “Green Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, is to make the public better aware of energy matters, understand the importance of energy sources now being used, uncover the myths of the green revolution, and learn what it will take to better use energy and power materials in the future.

In talking with Bryce, he puts it simply as, “I would like to effect the discussion on energy a little – if I can move the needle just a little bit” then his book has been successful. With the examples in the book and the discussion by Bryce, he will definitely move the needle! Politicians spread so much bias with so little real scientific and economic information that his book can be a real enlightenment. One of society’s biggest problems is the need to know, understand and then offer reasonable opinions on what options are really best for the country.

Bryce is concerned that today’s energy policy – the green revolution – is really not needed and will do little to replace the fossil-supplied energy of today at cost-effective rates. In discussing energy sources and evaluating them, Bryce makes use of metrics that he calls “Four Imperatives”. These are power density, energy density, cost, and scale.

In his analysis, Bryce differentiates between energy and power, pointing out that power, which is energy measured on a time basis, is what people should be concerned with. Through examples, using math, physics, and economics, he explains the important parameters of energy sources and why fossil fuels will be hard to replace. Using his four imperatives, the argument is strong and convincing.

The book is divided into four sections. The first is a review of energy use and the importance of power to the development of societies. He then explores the major factors of current fuels starting with coal and covering oil and natural gas. A highlight of this section describes coal reigning as the leading energy source in the U.S. for 75 years and oil, much superior to coal for many reasons, going into its sixth decade. With all of its benefits over coal and other fuel, “it means that oil like, coal, is here to stay”.

In Part II, he attacks the “Myths of Green Energy,” listing 13 myths fostered by the green crowds ranging from, “Wind and solar are green”, “Wind power substantially reduces CO-2 emissions”, “Denmark provides the energy model for the United States”, “Oil is dirty”, to “Electric cars are the next big thing,” to mention a few. The green energy bag of wind, solar and biofuels (mainly ethanol for fuel) just can’t replace the billions of Btus supplied by coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear!

Bryce’s recommendation of the best major sources for the most efficient, environmentally accepted sources of energy is what he calls, “N2N” – natural gas to nuclear! Part III suggests this is the direction that will create the changes that will lead to the best economic and social benefits. For the next couple of decades he sees the growing use of natural gas – which has undergone its own revolution with the development of shale deposits – while building up nuclear capability.

His discussion covers the history of natural gas development including how tight regulatory control impacted gas development. Supply and the importance of natural gas to the energy picture are outlined concisely, including domestic and international sources. This section also discusses the merits and problems of nuclear and how the major problem of waste disposal can be handled efficiently. N2N is where the current effort should be concentrated!

The last section is aptly titled, “Moving Forward”. Through examples, exhibits and the use of logic and explanation, he makes the case for the country’s needs in energy development. The goal is sufficient energy to continue the growth of the country on a par with the developing countries like China and India and still meet the necessary environmental and social requirements. He cites four actions in moving forward:

  • promote natural gas and nuclear power;
  • encourage U.S. oil and gas production;
  • promote energy efficiency; and
  • continue working on renewable energy and energy storage.