It's Not Easy Being GreenIssue: Section:
The U.C. checks in with our man in the green belt, Aaron Levinthal, to get the dirt on Alternative Energy.
What is the state of alternative energy in America right now?
It’s in slow growth mode. For the last 4 years we've been hopeful that the Obama Administration would step in and push us to do the obvious thing for our planet’s and our own financial future. They did not and now we hope they will in the next four years. I doubt they will but I don’t blame them completely. The weak economy has been boosted the last 4 years by the highest levels of domestic drilling and refining this country has ever seen. At this rate we will surpass Saudi Arabia. This is good for the now but awful for the future, unless we accept that stopping it is not an option and build & strengthen our alternatives during this re-boom so we can get out once we are strong again. It’s like we got a do-over. But will we change our moves this time? We will have to wait and see. The manufacturing that has left America to go to other cheaper places will never come back. So for a strong middle class to re-emerge we need to create new manufacturing. Energy technology is the answer. We need it, we are going to buy it, so we should buy it locally. It is about reinvesting, but we as a society likes to binge & hoard. Reinvestment seems like an antique concept. So the long answer to the question, The state of Alternative Energy in America is still hopeful albeit a little more jaded.
There has been so much talk about the huge amounts of money spent on alternative energy sources and technology, criticisms of waste and misappropriation and boasts of real progress. Where do you see us now?
Anything the government gets involved in will have huge amounts of waste and misappropriation. It’s inevitable. Look at defense contracts, money is wasted like water. Some very bad investments were pushed through by a government that has corruption at its core. Show me a government that doesn’t have that. The key is to not give up on the goal of clean energy manufacturing and to not expect corruption to be eliminated. It will never happen, there are too many people involved in the chain and way too much money being thrown around to stop human nature. Greed is a reality that just has to be managed the best we can. It was always there and we still were able to accomplish many wonderful things
Are we further along?
There is constant work being done every day. Are we further along? Yes. Are we where we should be? No. Will we get there? Yes. In time to change the course? That’s the real question.
Is the current administration truly committed to change?
I think they believe they are. I haven’t seen anything more than words so it’s hard to say. I live with no illusions, the POTUS can’t push wants through the way they used to. Our government system is currently without lubricant and it keeps getting stuck trying to do the most basic of actions. I guess the administration would say they have to pick their battles and a problem down the line just doesn’t take precedence over other more current problems. And who am I to disagree? Except the future keeps getting closer. The storms are getting worse and the electrical grid is getting older. Home standby generators are the fastest selling items in the country right now. The general public has lost faith in the ability to count on power. That’s scary. And those small generators all burn fossil fuels. No one is buying small wind vanes.
Is the oil industry just too big in our country/world to ever let us really move beyond our dependence on their product?
Yes. But that can be used to our advantage. If our goal is to stop them from getting the spoils, then we are in for a big disappointment. If we just want to help our air and atmosphere, then we can use this to make it happen. The Nuclear Missile program in this country was funded by defense companies without their say. They were forced by the government to invest in the research to create a weapon we decided we needed at the time with the promise that they would get to keep and create the technology for sale to the govt. A forced reinvestment if you will. I think we should do the same now. Force the domestic oil companies to improve the technology and allow them to have the advantage of selling it to us before anyone else. Not great for future capitalism but great for the planet. This may have horrible consequences in the future, but we know not doing it definitely will.
What steps can be taken right now to speed the process and in which areas is there most hope?
Nothing has changed. It’s still wind, solar & fuel cell technology that hold our future. And most of it is all being held up by storage. We need better batteries. We are getting there but we are finding problems, understandably. We keep making smaller boxes that hold more energy and they sometimes burst into flames. This will improve. And the issue most people fight about is Nuclear Power. I am in favor of more nuclear. We can make the plants to extremely high levels of safety and we can avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past. There is no question than when a Nuclear power plant goes bad it is catastrophic. When a coal plant is operating perfectly it is catastrophic. I like the odds of nuclear better. The largest pollutant is coal power at the moment. Nuclear is a useful step that we can hopefully use for the moment and stop using when our technology is up to speed. Lastly biodiesel use is still a wonderful step that is constantly hindered. The EPA hired the engine manufacturers to help figure out a better way to make engines for generators. The answer was to build bigger engines that release feweremissions but burn more fuel. They created a Tier system ranking from 1 – 4. Tier 1 release the most emissions and Tier 4 the lowest. Now the EPA is banning engines with lower than a Tier 3 rating. The problem is that a Tier 1 engine burning B100 (pure biodiesel) releases 50% less emissions than a Tier 4 engine burning petroleum diesel. Compounded by the fact that Tier 3 and 4 engines do not work well with biodiesel. So a system has been put in place to require a lot of new engine purchases that release more emissions than if we just put a mandatory fuel change in place. But that is the government way, hire the thief to tell you how to stop the thieves. I am cautiously optimistic about our future but my optimism wanes with each new “Super Storm” and each new “Government Shutdown”.
* Aaron Levinthal is the founder of the biodiesel generator company GREENOW