October 15, 2002

Ideas for alternate energy

In his editorial published in the October 11 edition of the Maroon, George Anesi argued that the United States should shovel more money into alternative energy research, as opposed to continuing its scary dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Dictatorial and cruel Middle Eastern regimes are a clear and present danger. The majority of nations in the region have despotic governments, and many, including Saudi Arabia, remain a hotbed for terrorist activity. Supporting a nation such as petroleum-rich Saudi Arabia, while aiming to topple Iraq is somewhat hypocritical, but at the same time necessary.

It's necessary because of our nation's constant thirst for oil. But this necessity only makes the situation murkier, and, in the present and future, can only spell trouble. Anesi believes that the best way to rectify this catch-22 is for the government to allot more funds for alternative energy research. Up front this plan seems quite simple, but in reality, our entire economic system makes it ostensibly impossible.

Current alternative fuels are impractical. Electric cars have existed, in one form or another, since the late 19th century, nearly as long as the gasoline-powered vehicle. Then, as now, unbelievable costs and inconvenience made these vehicles impractical. Today, one of the foremost alternative energy vehicle systems relies on a lead-acid battery. Along with posing a danger to the environment, this battery gives its owner an average of only 90 driving miles per charge. A complete recharging takes at least three hours, and sometimes may take 15 to 24 hours. That's a lot of time to invest to gain another 90 miles of driving range. The cost of these cars is also outrageous. An average model sells for about $35,000. A newer alternative method, the nickel-metal hydride battery, gives vehicles a greater range and a lesser recharging time, but an average model costs over twice as much as a lead-acid battery car.

Obviously, as with any technology, these methods will improve over time. Continued research and experimentation will lead to models with a greater range and lesser recharging time. It is also a given that prices will drop. However, these necessary changes cannot come by way of government mandate. The free market will determine exactly when these newer methods will become plausible to own.

The government could theoretically shovel any amount of money into energy research. No amount of funds, though, could require an average American to ditch relatively cheap gasoline and embrace alternative forms. Only the capitalistic free market can do this, and this will only happen when the absolute need to discontinue the use of gasoline arises. The federal government should continue to grant funds to energy research, as this research will inevitably lead to discoveries that might, in the future, prove important. However, increased funding is not the final answer. Any important discoveries made by government-funded scientists will fall into oblivion before the pressing need of the free market resurrects them and molds them into something useful.

So, with dependence on Middle Eastern oil scary and dangerous, and increased funding for alternative methods implausible without a free market mandate, what course is best for the U.S. to follow when it comes to cheap and reliable forms of energy? Domestic sources, of course. Drilling in Alaska is controversial, but it should at least be more closely examined. A better alternative than Alaska, however, is exploring possible domestic sources in the American west. Such drilling might have environmental ramifications, but what other choice do we have? Should we continue to throw monetary support to nations with ties to terrorism? Should we waste tax dollars on something that will never grant a result until the free market speaks? We are, as Anesi said, between a rock and a hard place. Maybe, if we look close enough, that rock might yield domestic oil.