Ya gotta love T. Boone Pickens. Not only does he embody the rugged wildcatter entrepreneur spirit, this old fossil-fuel fossil seems to have the only sensible and coherent and doable plan to save this country from its own energy excesses. Pickens may be from Oklahoma but he learned a thing or two in Texas about selling the Big Dream. He also learned the realities of the energy business. The Pickens Plan is not vast or daring so much as it is Possible. It is a firm, small step in the right direction. The Pickens Plan is great as far as it goes, especially from the point of view of an old oil man who stands to make considerable money from his new investments in natural gas and wind power, but it doesn’t go far enough. What we need is a National Plan. Every day that slips by without having such a plan is a day that we fall behind the 21st Century.
The Poet’s Eye sees that the investment that our nation made in NASA was the best bargain since the Louisiana Purchase. That small bid of faith in a seemingly moonpie-in-the-sky scheme gave us much more than an American flag on the Moon, it gave us the innovative technologies that define the economy of the world we live in today. Untold trillions in wealth have been created by the industries which owe their existence to the inventions and research and by-products of the space program. It is time for another unified and dedicated national crusade, a new American quest, a bold reach into the future. If John Kennedy can literally promise the moon and deliver it by productively focusing the creative energies of our scientists and engineers, another visionary leader could mobilize our nation and wean us from foreign oil by the end of the decade. When Kennedy proposed his quixotic project in 1961, it seemed like a preposterous and impossible dream to most of us who were watching him on black and white televisions, but it was accomplished because we focused the necessary funds and priority toward a single if monumental task. We are faced with such a task today. The talent and the technology and creativity and the resources are all here, all we need is the vision and the leadership to reach our goal of clean sustainable energy.
At least most of us think that clean sustainable energy is a good goal. There are other people who are making a great deal of money from our petro-addiction and don’t share this goal. They want things to continue running on dirty coal and foreign oil until we choke or go broke. Unfortunately these people have a great deal of power and influence and money and thus far have managed to befuddle our government and the public out of any resolve to deal with the problem even though failure to make the necessary changes will surely ruin our way of life. This opposition is so strong and determined and entrenched that overcoming political problems may prove harder than solving the technical ones when it comes to converting to clean energy. The effort, resolve and innovation needed to dislodge the hydrocarbon drug-lords has so far not been present. I doesn’t help that all of the pieces on the political chessboard are owned by the cartels.
Private industry is making some valiant efforts to help with our metamorphosis from greasy crawling caterpillars to clean, self-sustaining butterflies, but we are looking at a huge systemic problem here and it is going to require more than the might of a single company or consortium to solve it. We need a national policy and a dedicated agency with as much clout and priority as the Dept. of Defense to orchestrate and facilitate the efforts of private industry. Failure to institute and implement such a policy will certainly turn us from landlords to renters by the end of the decade.
Fruit still falls from the tree of our space program. Case in point: Bloom Energy. NASA scientists were working on a system to manufacture oxygen from the Martian environment for use by human explorers. This program was cancelled because we decided to send clean robots to Mars instead of messy, polluting humans. K.R. Sridhar had developed a solid oxide fuel-cell system that ate electricity and hydrocarbon fuel and produced oxygen. We no longer needed the oxygen on Mars but we still needed electricity here on Earth and when his machine is run in reverse, it eats fuel and oxygen and produces electricity. Sridhar raised just south of half a billion dollars and began manufacturing the Bloom Box which is a bank of fuel cells smaller than a VW Bug that will power 100 homes and create almost no pollution. The Bloom Box is destined to be a game-changer in clean energy. Already such forward-thinking companies as Google, Ebay, and Adobe have purchased units to power their corporate campuses. These aren’t the only smart people who see the advantages of the product. There are standing orders for the $750,000 units. But it seems that Bloom, even with 500 employees and nearly half a billion in operating money can only produce one of these machines per day because of ‘logistic and supply-line problems.’ If we had our energy priorities straight we could be producing Bloom Boxes like we produced B-17’s during WWII, one every ten minutes.
We would hope that the energy equivalent of a Pearl Harbor or a 9-11 won’t be necessary for us to mobilize as a nation to cure our foreign oil addiction. It’s not as if we haven’t known about this impending debacle for at least a generation but we’ve been too high on cheap fuel to plan for the long term. The greatest wealth transfer in the history of man or money has occurred in the past quarter century with said wealth flowing directly out of our veins and into the pockets of the oil pushers. We can’t afford a billion dollar a day junk habit indefinitely. If we don’t get into rehab and quick, then the houses that we built and live in will soon be owned by the Saud Family or the Carlisle Group or Caesar Chavez.
The Poet’s Eye sees that we have the tools and technology to beat our addiction. We have the resources, the talent and certainly an urgent need to do so. All we lack is the leadership and and the political will. The Pickens Plan is a good place to start. It addresses immediate needs with available resources. It’s possible. But inevitably we will need a more ambitious plan which taps many renewable resources.We need an Energy Program that is shooting for the Moon. Innovations like the Bloom Box will be part of it and nuclear and sun/wind/tide harvesting. This poet proposes devising a way to use the core of the earth as a giant armature spinning inside a ring of orbital radio-magnets to generate free power for the whole planet. Think I’ll call it The Poet’s Eye Plan. It’s time to think big.
“We don’t have an Energy Crisis
We have an Ingenuity Crisis.”–Lrod