Saturday, February 11, 2012

Connect the Dots ... Renewable Energy, Innovation, Capital Formation, U.S. Economic Growth, and The American Spirit

The future of America can be bright.  With the right leadership it will be bright.  Why do I think this is so?    Permit me to share with you my thoughts on "connecting the dots" ... renewable energy, capital formation, innovation, the future of the U.S. economy, and the American Spirit.

Why Is Renewable Energy So Important to the U.S. and Its Economic Growth?  I often write about (and keep up to date with) developments in renewable energy, which is so important to the U.S. and its future economic prospects.  Why is this so?

   (1) If we continue to import oil in large quantities, we will continue our huge trade deficit and, in turn, export our wealth overseas. (This leads to other adverse effects, such as trade imbalances).

   (2) Low-cost energy fuels the U.S. economy; if we don't secure and maintain low-cost energy sources - not just in the U.S. but worldwide - inflation will be more robust.

    (3) Lower-cost energy solutions deployable not only in the U.S. but also in all other countries of the world can fuel everything from clean water solutions to the enhanced use of computer technology, increased communications for knowledge and idea sharing, and - in short - provide the fuel for a worldwide economic boom.

   (4) Renewable energy solutions in the U.S. offer the prospect of U.S. jobs - it takes many man hours to manufacture, deploy and maintain renewable energy plants.

The "Big Four" Renewable Energy Technologies.  What are the major potential sources of renewable energy?  Several current technologies offer a great deal of promise for low-cost energy.

   (1) Wind, at least at present; costs for production of energy through wind have only come down modestly.  Great costs are also involved in transmitting energy from the "windy" states of the Midwest to the population centers.  But, ever-larger turbines offer promise for greater efficiency.  Also, more widescale deployment of "offshore" wind platforms (closer to major population centers, but out-of-sight and out-of-hearing distance) offer promise, as well.

   (2) Solar, especially Solar PV systems, for which the cost per KW hour continues to fall, and in which continued research is increasing efficiency each year. The unprecedented drop in the costs of solar modules over the last three years has led to solar energy being in parity with coal and gas in areas where electricity pricing ramps up during daytime hours.

  (3) Hydropower.  As this article points out ( only a small fraction of existing dams generate electricity.  And micro-hydropower offers a solution for cost-efficient, though small, electricity generation in some canals, streams.

  (4) Geothermal - which is an excellent source especially for newly constructed buildings and homes.

Battery Improvements - In High Gear.  Of course, battery technologies (for batteries both big and small) continue to improve.  Some preliminary research released over the past year or two, if such results can be commercially applied (within the next few years), offers encouraging signs of the ability to increase energy density in batteries by a factor of 10 (or perhaps even greater).  These innovations will assist not only small battery packs in delivering power to vehicles, but also utility-scale batteries (needed because the wind does not blow constantly, nor does the sun always shine).

Other Energy Technology Solutions.  Many other solutions exist - biomass for fuel, tidal uses of hydropower, and many more.  Some of these solutions require ongoing development, while other solutions (fusion power, for example) are in need of breakthroughs.

Greater deployment of nuclear (fission) power is a possibility, as well,  But the all-in costs of new plants, together with the risks involved, seem to eclipse the costs of other emerging technologies.

Regardless, the solution to our future energy needs is unlikely to come from a single solution.  Rather, cost-benefit analysis will show that, in tapping the world's diverse energy resources, some solutions will be better in  some local areas than others.

Ever-Better Conservation.   Key to our energy future is our usage of energy, as well.  Investments made by homeowners, commercial building owners, and others - in everything from increased insulation to double-pane windows to LED light bulbs (which continue to fall in price) reap very near-term rewards, with paybacks for some deployments occurring within only 1-4 years.  And, of course, increased auto mileage standards, and continued deployment (and advancement) of hybrid and electric vehicles, will assist to a great deal.  However, it would be nice to see select tax incentives in this area extended, and for greater leadership at the national level as to touting energy conservation.

Low-Cost Natural Gas, Improved Oil Drilling.  I'm not ignoring these areas ... natural gas prices have rapidly fallen with new technologies (including fracking - very controversial) being employed.  In fact, with new drilling and recovery technologies, our domestic and natural gas resources may be far greater than we previously imagined.

Still, I accept the conclusions that burning of fossil fuels has led to increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which in turn largely drives climate change.  Hence, I'm not one to tout the increased burning of long-sequestered carbon and putting more CO2 into our atmosphere - even if the relative cost is lower.  It seems to me that we will need carbon-based fuels for many decades to come, as energy demands increase worldwide.  But it also would seem to me that it would be absolutely great if we never built another natural gas energy plant, coal-consuming energy plant, or oil refinery.  There is simply no need for half of Florida's population, NYC, Boston, and many other of population centers to be underwater in the decades to come; but this requires us to think far ahead - as we look for energy solutions now.

Scientific Discovery, Innovation, Computer Technology, Communications Enhancements - The "Fuel" for Future U.S. Economic Growth.  Often I hear from clients (and others) that America's best days are behind it. I disagree.  Perhaps our "easy days" are behind us.  And soon we will no longer possess the world's largest economy.  But as long as we, as a nation, embrace education in the sciences and technology, foster research at our colleges and universities which lead to new discoveries, foster technological innovation and deployment of new technologies through appropriate incentives, continue to embrace the computer revolution (which still has a long way to go), and continue to embrace the need to communicate new discoveries among scientists, engineers, and providers of capital - our country can prosper.

The Challenges are Solvable.  I'm not saying that tough challenges don't lie ahead for America, and Americans.

We have a mismatch between the jobs people want (and are qualified for), and the jobs which are available.

Competition from abroad will be robust - we cannot ignore it, nor place up shields from it - but we can respond to its challenges appropriately.

We need to invest in our educational systems, restore and improve upon our infrastructure, and encourage the continued development and employment of emerging technologies which offer long-term enhancements to our way of life without substantial adverse effects on the environment.

We need to restore the faith of our citizens in our financial services industry, in order to promote the capital formation needed to fuel economic growth.  Transforming Wall Street from institutions that take from the people to institutions to serve the populace, and possess fiduciary duties toward our fellow citizens, will take both courage and tenacity.

And we need to do all of this while "living within our means" - both respect to ourselves as individuals and through our governments.

Leadership and Innovation, Plus Tenacity, Equals a Bright Economic Future.  With the right leadership, and resolve, this nation can and will prosper.  For America has so many fine attributes.

America's great heart is reflected in our ability to come together to tackle great challenges.

America's great mind is reflected in the scientific discoveries and technological innovations flowing from colleges, universities, small businesses, and larger research centers.

America's tremendous courage is reflected in the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens - always willing to take risks in order to attain a better world for all.

America's great soul is reflected in the character of its people - their respect and tolerance for one another, our capacity to care for each other, and our capacity to forgive.

America's future is bright for all of these reasons.  While it has been several years since economic times were viewed as "good," and while many challenges facing our country have received great attention during this time, let us not despair.  Rather, let us realize that there is much that is good and right and prosperous - that lies ahead.

Leadership.  Let us not, however, be complacent.  Let us seek out leaders who embrace our core values as a nation, and who possess the courage to tackle our challenges.  Let us seek out leaders who are honest with us about the challenges we face, and who are willing to work with all parties to fashion the appropriate solutions.

Self-Examination.  If failure does occur, the failure will lie with us - each one of us.  In permitting our political leaders (and future leaders) to make false promises which will not be kept.  In tolerating (and not challenging, at every step) those politicians who say anything to get elected.  In not casting dismay upon those politicians who raise large sums of money from special interests, pretending that such contributions don't influence their votes on major issues, while "winking" at their donors at the same time.

In short, it is we that must demand more from those who seek to serve our nation.  Let us resolve to embrace our responsibilities as citizens to hold our leaders accountable to their words, to not tolerate those who do not mean what they say, and to search for great leaders - the ones who love our country more than they love their elected positions.

In the end, the future of America is in our hands - each and every one of us.  It is our responsibility - now - to foster a great future for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  As the election season of 2012 continues to evolve, let us fulfill our duties to those we love.  Let us fulfill our duty to the America we love.  Let each one of us contribute in this process, each in our own ways, but all of us in some way.

I believe America can, and will, restore itself to economic vitality.  The American Spirit is too strong and too robust to hold back, as long as we do not become complacent.  The American Spirit is the source of our strength, our vision, and the enabler of our future success, as long as we don't take it for granted.

Let us - each and every one of us, in our own way - embrace the American Spirit and act to ensure a prosperous future for us all.