(Oil spill & windmill) x (technology & management)

The BP spill is tragic, but it's gotten me learning about oil drilling technology and history. Some nice sites by the NYTimes, which I think are generally much more interesting then their coverage of the political drama:

A graphical explanation of how the well was supposed to be plugged.

A reference describing the different attempts at stopping the leak.

A timeline of historical oil spills, with actual newspaper clippings from the events and descriptions of the legislation that followed each.

Also, quite depressing, is this innovative way of communicating to people exactly how large of an area is affected by the slick.

After all of this, I think (or at least hope) that we're all more educated about the technology underlying our massive energy infrastructure.

Trying to be a pragmatist, I keep looking at these diagrams (especially the ones that show how far underwater, and underground, the leaking well is) and thinking to myself, "is this really easier than windmills, seriously?" It's understandable (at least from a micro-economists perspective) that power companies with massive amounts of sunk capital would misrepresent the costs of a transition to cleaner technology, even if it would have large positive externalities. Interestingly, on this point, a recent NREL study suggests that the costs of stabilizing energy supply using wind and solar power have been exaggerated.

A major argument against more rapid investment in renewables provided by many energy experts has been that it is difficult to ensure a steady supply of energy when weather and daylight fluctuate. To me, this always seemed dubious, since the US is enormous and there are large anti-correlations in wind and cloud-cover across the country. It seemed that if panels and farms were distributed intelligently across space, we could take advantage of these known structures to provide a smoother power-supply to the country. All it would take is some planning, knowledge of meteorology and some cooperation among utilities. This is exactly the finding of the NREL study. They say that 35% of energy could be supplied by renewables without installing substantial backup capacity. All it would take is a little coordination.

No comments:

Post a Comment