The Unpredictability of Energy Policy?
Many unexpected events and technological developments occur which can change energy outlook over the period of a decade. But in many areas, some people foresaw the occurrences, or just made good guesses. But not knowing ahead of time which prediction was right, you can still claim that the changes were not foreseen.
Let’s start with the biggest driver of saving greenhouse gasses, which was fracking for natural gas, and its becoming cheap enough to start replacing coal. Instead of the US fate as an importer of LNG, we may now become an exporter.
Then there was the development of shale oil such as the North Dakota Bakken shale, similar to the Alberta tar sands oil. This could make us oil independent, except that it is more expensive at $50 dollars a barrel, than easily extracted Middle East oil.
What wasn’t foreseen is that Saudi Arabia would drop the price of oil from $120 a barrel to $50 to undercut and shutdown US fracked oil. Actually, economists foretold it. What wasn’t foreseen was that the oil frackers could drop the cost of processing from about $75 a barrel to $50 to beat the attack. People did see that the price drop would give Saudi Arabia an advantage over its power competitor, Iran, whose budget depends heavily on oil profits. This may have helped Iran to give up its drive for nuclear weapons, to lessen its sanctions and reclaim sequestered funds.
For the Alberta tar sands, it was not foreseen that railroad cars would substitute for the Keystone pipeline, but with more danger from trains going through the hearts of cities.
What was not foreseen were the earthquakes in Oklahoma, caused by high pressure injection of fracking waste water. Actually, there was a Project Rulison that I remember in Colorado, to force out oil with high pressure water. It was called off early due to the occurrence of earthquakes.
What wasn’t foreseen was that Donald Trump would be elected President? Actually, we usually alternate between Democratic and Republican Presidents, and Republicans have been wedded to oil oligarchs, such as the Koch brothers. Even George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were oilmen themselves.
Nobody could have predicted the thousand year 9.4 Tohoku earthquake, that flooded the Fukushima reactors. Actually, a geology professor had been urging them to update earthquake assessments from those used after World War II, and the industry was dragging their feet. There was evidence of a Tsunami that went miles inland a thousand years ago. The fact that there were no available generators for cooling water, and that wires had been put in underground tunnels, were unpreparedness errors built in from the start.
The reactor meltdowns and radiated zone has stopped Japanese reactors from reopening, even after safety preparations, and has scared people in the US from continuing with nuclear reactors.
Nobody seemed to predict that Mitsubishi would mess up the redesigned San Onofre heat exchangers. Nobody recalled the old phrase “If it ain’t bloke, don’t fix it”. It’s actually hard to replace very old machinery, it’s really a new job anyway. Besides that, modern computers could do better calculations than really old ones, although they might have more room for errors to creep in.
Nobody could have foreseen the cost overruns on the first A1000 next generation reactors. Except most reactors run over budget, especially new technology ones.
So far, we have covered natural gas, oil, and nuclear. Nobody could have forecast that reestablishing coal would be a Republican platform. Except Republicans needed to win more depressed Southern states, and promising to bring back coal jobs was the easy way to do it.
Nobody saw that the price of solar cells would fall dramatically, and they would get more efficient. Except that technology development does not go backward, and can always improve. There are also the well known economies of scale.
Nobody knew that wind power would develop in Midwest states. Except the writers of the musical Paint Your Wagon, Lerner and Loewe, who wrote in 1951, “they call the wind Maria”, which was wailing and whining.
Nobody could have foreseen the tragic events that will occur because of climate change, except all climate scientists.