On the heels of his latest book, Power Hungry, author, journalist and speaker Robert Bryce is back, gearing up to get back on the circuit with his upcoming May 2014 book release titled, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong. ICOSA was able to catch Bryce and get his two-cents on energy resources and why the public has a “fundamental problem” understanding what they are. ICOSA: Why do you believe understanding energy is so important as we move into the future?
BRYCE: Energy is the master resource. The energy sector is the world's biggest and most important business. Every industry depends, directly or indirectly, on energy. We need policies aimed at making energy cheap, abundant, and reliable, in that order. Fortunately, the U.S. now has an advantage, thanks to the shale revolution, over nearly every other country in the world with regard to energy prices.
ICOSA: When some people think of energy they think of the future and not the intrinsic costs, positive and negative. How have these hurt populations over the last century and how can we fix our frame of reference moving forward?
BRYCE: The fundamental problem in understanding energy is that the general public, as well as the political class, are innumerate and scientifically illiterate. People don't understand numbers and they have essentially no concept of basic physics. The combined ignorance has led to some colossally bad policies, including, for instance, the corn ethanol scam.
If we are going to have good energy policy, we need better understanding of the scale of global energy use. We also need an elected class who understands basic metrics like energy density and power density. That would not solve everything, but it would be a start.
ICOSA: We’ve developed many ways to harness energy but we lack the comprehensive technology for enhanced power storage, modernization of the power grid and fuel-efficient infrastructure and construction. Do you believe we are suffering more from inefficient and incomplete systems or the energy needed for those systems? Are we currently focused on the wrong fight?
BRYCE: Electricity storage has been the holy grail of the energy sector since the days of Volta and Edison. Our batteries today are better than what Edison had, but they aren't orders of magnitude better. Our power grid, despite its many flaws, is working pretty well. Yes, it needs more investment, but much of that investment is being made.
ICOSA: What are the inherent differences between our energy needs and our energy resources?
BRYCE: Well, Africa has huge energy needs. It also has huge energy resources. The problem is that the continent, in general, lacks the capital (and civil societies) needed to convert those resources into reliable flows of energy. I'm convinced that we have no shortage of energy resources. What we lack, and here I'm talking about the royal "we," is the commitment to convert our limitless energy resources into usable power.
ICOSA: Where do you believe green energy would be most beneficial?
BRYCE: I am bearish on wind energy and bullish on solar. Wind energy requires too much land and the resources are generally too far away from major population centers. Rooftop solar has great promise, if we can reduce the costs dramatically. All of that said, both wind and solar are incurably intermittent, and that poses a host of other challenges.
ICOSA: How do you think energy deployment at the generation level will change over the next 20 years?
BRYCE: On a global basis, it's clear that the world is moving toward coal in a major way. The International Energy Agency just released a report, which predicts global coal use will eclipse global oil use by 2018 or so. That's a staggering development. In the U.S., natural gas is going to be the big winner. It will steal market share from coal in electric generation and from oil in transportation. But the shale gale that has happened in the U.S. will be difficult to replicate in other countries.
ICOSA: Do you think nuclear energy can revive its image and overcome people’s misunderstanding of the fuel and its future, especially as Thorium and small modular reactors are introduced?
BRYCE: I'm bullish on nuclear. It's a major theme of my next book, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong, which will be published on May 13. I'm hopeful for small modular reactors, but the main problem facing nuclear is its cost.
Yes, nuclear instills fear in people. But that's largely because of fear mongering that's been done by irresponsible groups like Greenpeace. The public doesn't understand nuclear energy or radiation. Greenpeace feeds on that ignorance.
All of that said, over the long term nuclear will prosper. It will be particularly important if we are going to agree on carbon dioxide emissions. The hard truth is this: if you are anti-carbon dioxide and anti-nuclear, you are pro-blackout.
ICOSA: You’ve said that you are bullish on solar, so what makes you so hesitant on wind?
BRYCE: The power density of wind—1 watt per square meter—is too low. Thus, the land requirements are absurd. The U.S. has about 300 gigawatts (that's 300 billion watts) of coal-fired capacity. Just to replace that capacity with wind would require setting aside a land area the size of Italy.
This isn't rocket science. It's elementary-level math. And yet the Green Left and Big Wind have succeeded in deceiving the public by claiming that wind energy is a solution to climate change. It's not. Wind turbines are nothing more than climate-change scarecrows.
ICOSA: American’s have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind relationship to carbon. How can people in the energy industry change this conversation?
BRYCE: I don't have a good answer for that. What is clear is this: the U.S. is leading the world in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions. That's not my opinion, that's data from the International Energy Agency. And the U.S. is leading the world largely because natural gas is displacing significant quantities of coal in the power generation sector. The way of the future is N2N, natural gas to nuclear.
ICOSA: Do you think we need to re-evaluate how we approach renewable energy? What more could be done and how much more do we need to understand about it?
BRYCE: We have to quit romanticizing renewable energy. We humans relied on renewables for millennia. And for that entire time, humans lived on the ragged edge of starvation and disease. Hydrocarbons liberated us from the drudgery of relying on the wind and the sun.
Renewable energy is viable in some locations. Solar, in particular, is great for extremely rural locations and island economies that get lots of sun. But we need to get real about renewables. Wind energy isn't new. It has been in use for 1,000 years. Solar? The photovoltaic effect has been known since 1839. Solar panels have been around for 60 years. Biomass? There's simply no way we can produce enough biomass to power the global economy. For millennia we've used draft animals to do our work.
Today, we have gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. And yet, we are told that the way forward is by returning to the olden days. No, it's not. We need to quit romanticizing the past and start appreciating how wondrous our lives are now thanks to our ability to harness hydrocarbons and the incredible power of the atom.
For more on Robert Bryce, including articles and shows that he’s appeared in, or to check out his books, visit http://www.robertbryce.com.