IRA FLATOW, host:
This is Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I am Ira Flatow. Picture an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with oil. Now, drain one of those pools every 15 seconds and that's the world current oil consumption.
One of the key issues President Bush focused on this week in his State of the Union address was energy. His speech called for a 22 percent increase in clean energy research at the Department of Energy, research into solar and wind power, ways to produce ethanol, nuclear power, and cleaner coal. Critics point out that the speech came about a month after the release of the budget which cut spending for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory by $28 million. Thirty to forty of the lab's employees will be laid off.
So, is the White House really serious about increasing research dollars or is it just redirect? Some people in businesses are not waiting for the government to act. Some are taking the initiative.
This hour, we'll talk about energy independence. Is it attainable? What are some of the alternatives to oil? Can energy policy be complete without thinking about greenhouse gas emissions? The president didn't talk about that this week or about energy conservation. Perhaps conservation could buy us many more years of energy-free or a reduction in oil consumption.
We'll also talk to the folks at Whole Foods. You know, that announced that it will be buying electricity from wind power sources. Will others follow? What do you think? If you'd like to talk oil alternatives, give us a call. Our number is 1-800-989- 8255, 1-800-989-TALK. As always, you're welcome to surf over to our Web site at SCIENCEFRIDAY.COM.
Let me introduce my guests. Peter Tertzakian is the chief energy and director of the ARC Financial Corporation, that's ARC Financial Corporation. He's also author of the book, A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World that's published this year by McGraw-Hill.
He's based in Calgary, British Columbia but he joins us from San Francisco. Welcome to the program.
Mr. PETER TERTZAKIAN (Chief Energy Economist and a Director of ARC Financial Corporation; Author): Thank you, Ira.
FLATOW: You're welcome. Jerome Ringo is the president of The Apollo Alliance. That's a group publishing, pushing for freedom from foreign oil while creating jobs. He joins us by phone. Welcome.
Mr. JEROME RINGO (President, The Apollo Alliance): Thank you.
FLATOW: We didn't hear, Jerome, we didn't hear that much about creating jobs when the president was talking about alternative energy. You would think he might use that as a, you know, as a prop or as a reason to go to these alternative technologies.
Mr. RINGO: Unfortunately there was a lot we did not hear. Fortunately, and I applaud the president, there was one thing we did hear was that an admission of America's addiction to foreign oil. I think that it's the beginning of an opportunity for America to get into a 12-step program for recovery from this addiction.
That first step was accomplished for us, thank you, Mr. President, by admitting we have a problem. The second step must be for us to, for him to abandon that modest proposal to reduce our dependency on foreign oil that he presented in his address. I believe beyond that the president must also consider the rest of the 10 steps, which Apollo Alliance outlines in its 10-point plan for America's energy independence by 2015.
FLATOW: All right. We'll get into some of those. I want to talk to Peter. And in your book, I mentioned at the beginning about this Olympic-sized swimming pool which is being drained every 15 seconds.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Right.
FLATOW: You say that we're going to be reaching a point this year where we'll be using 1,000, what, barrels per second of oil?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: A thousand barrels per second. Yes, that's correct.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: It's, you know, we get desensitized, often, by talking in the industry about millions of barrels per day and so on. So when I ran the numbers and you convert it to barrels per second, it's a thousand barrels per second, which in itself is just a number. But hopefully when you put it in a perspective of a milestone like a thousand barrels per second it becomes more real.
FLATOW: What did you think of the president's attack on energy this week?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, like Jerome, I thought it was very pivotal that he made an admission to the problem. That is absolutely key. In my book I call that the rallying cry. And rallying cries have been used historically in other nations, particularly during times of crisis, to try and alter the course of energy consumption, the way we live, the way we consume energy. So, that was pivotal.
FLATOW: Yes. My apologies, Jerome, for putting you in British Columbia. Peter, it's...
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Yes. It's in Alberta.
FLATOW: It's Alberta. I know. I'm sorry.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Yes.
FLATOW: Let me ask you, Jerome, where do you think - you gave us step number one. You said you had laid out all 12 steps. What would be steps two, three, and four on your list of addiction?
Mr. RINGO: Well, step two, of course, is for the president to abandon that modest proposal that he presented to the American people. The other 10 steps, as I said, is Apollo Alliance initiative to, for energy independence by 2015, which includes promoting the advanced technology in hybrid cars. We need to invest in more efficient factories. We need to encourage high- performance buildings. We need to increase use of energy- efficient appliances and modernize our electrical infrastructures. We must expand renewable energy development. We must improve transportation options.
We must reinvest in smart urban growth and plan for a hydrogen future and preserve regulatory protections. These things are a must.
FLATOW: Is it possible to do this without hurting the economy? Because every time we hear the president talking about global warming or something involved with energy, he always makes sure that he says we can't do this, you know, rush into this because it might hurt the economy.
Mr. RINGO: A bold initiative for energy independence will create three million jobs. We're going to create jobs in manufacturing, in farms, and in construction. The people that have signed up and the organizations that have signed up to support The Apollo initiative, such as labor, we have 23 national and international labor unions that promote and support jobs and believe that these steps taken by Apollo and the initiatives that we put forth will create jobs in the areas of research and development, in the areas of greening our buildings and our cities, in areas of, you know, rebuilding or re-energizing, educating, is going to be a tremendous opportunity for America as we consider alternative energy and at the same time reducing our dependency on foreign oils.
FLATOW: Peter, the president went through step one, as Jerome has been telling us. What do you think is the biggest problem in our addiction? And how do we get away from that?
Mr. RINGO: Well, the biggest problem...
Mr. RINGO: I'm sorry.
FLATOW: I wanted to ask Peter that question.
Mr. RINGO: Sure.
FLATOW: Go ahead.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Yes, the biggest problem is there's tremendous inefficiencies. But, you know, let me characterize it a different way. The big part of the issue here is that there's a lot of emphasis being placed on technology. And while I don't debate the technology in the long term will win the day, I think the issues are much more near term than that.
And, you know, the president's speech also said the best way to break the addiction is through technology. Well, what does that tell the people? That tells the people that the onus is now on the scientists and that people--you don't have to worry because we're going to find another magic bullet to save the day here.
And I think that sends somewhat of a wrong message because the rally cry, while it was good, I think the rally cry has to now reach the individual person rather than putting it on the shoulders of the scientists. Because at the end of the day, technological change and technological adoption in the energy business is not like the same as it is in consumer electronics or other high-tech industries. Change takes a long time.
And the issues are over the course of the next five, 10 years. And a lot of these high-tech things that are being proposed are beyond that horizon in terms of making a meaningful dent in the problem.
FLATOW: So, are you talking about conservation, things that individuals can do themselves? Things like that?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Yes. I mean, in part, that's part, it's one dimension of many that needs to be considered when enacting policy decisions. Conservation is the lowest hanging fruit. I mean, you know, we don't need high tech solutions. We don't need necessarily the engineering marvel of hybrids, although I'm not knocking it at all. I mean, it's wonderful.
But all you have to do is buy a smaller car. I mean, the fuel economy gains in buying a smaller vehicle are almost the same as buying a hybrid. So, you know, there's lifestyles and the way we live type of issues that have to address. And I think Jerome pointed that out. I think he said it was step four or step five of the way that we live and the migration of the communities.
FLATOW: Why do you think, and I'll ask both of you, why do you think it was so politically troubling? And it continues to be politically troubling for the president to talk about, for example, energy efficiency raising the miles per gallon, the café standards for cars.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well...
FLATOW: Is it the voters in the car making states? Is it or, what is it people can't have their SUVs? What do you think it is?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, it's just politically unpalatable in a nation that prides itself on free market economics to meddle in free market economics...
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...by imposing standards on either, you know, one specific industry, such as the auto industry. I mean, I think that comes to the heart of the issue.
FLATOW: But you could do it on all industries: refrigeration, auto, you know, building materials. Peter, what do you, Jerome what do you think?
Mr. RINGO: Well, I believe, you know, there are many steps that we can take across the board. Collectively, it's going to take the efforts of people changing their lifestyles as well as innovative new technologies to get the job done, to bring us to that energy independence.
I think there are many considerations and options and ideas that can be explored; but I think collectively we get the job done. Surely, Americans can change our lifestyles and drive smaller cars. At the same time, we have to strive for more energy- efficient cars ...
FLATOW: Mm hmmm.
Mr. RINGO: ...and come up with standards that would not negatively impact the American economy and take jobs away ...
Mr. RINGO: ...but bring new jobs to us.
FLATOW: Well, the cars don't have to be smaller, you know, to be more energy efficient.
Mr. RINGO: True.
FLATOW: You can put more energy-efficient engines in a bigger car, which Toyota is doing, for example.
Mr. RINGO: Absolutely.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, you can but I'd you know I'd like to point out that the internal combustion engine has evolved over the last 100, 150 years. And in terms of the efficiency of the engine ...
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...we've pretty much maxed out in approaching the limits of physics here.
The real problem is the stop and go congestion and the traffic. And the fact that the American public over the course of the last 15 to 20 years has migrated out to the suburbs and are driving 20 percent more compared to what they were driving 15 years ago. And we continue to migrate out to the suburbs.
FLATOW: But we have hybrids that are made just for that kind of city driving.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, they are and they're great. I'm not knocking it...
FLATOW: Good, and...
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...but I think you have...
FLATOW: Yeah go ahead.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...to put it in perspective. Go ahead.
FLATOW: No I'm just saying they are you know Toyota announced this week their going to build a Camry hybrid. I mean the most popular car in America.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Sure, sure and I think hybrids are great again. But now we've come to the heart of another problem, which is understanding the time horizon with which change takes place. Introducing hybrids are great. I think in 2005 there were some 200,000 sold in the United States.
It's a great start...
FLATOW: Mm hmmm.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: but bear in mind that there's 230 million registered vehicles that have to be churned through and made more efficient. So great start, but you can imagine how long it's going to take to churn through the inefficiencies of the entire American fleet of vehicles...
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...before meaningful change is made to the vehicle fuel economy of the fleet.
FLATOW: All right, we have to take a short break we'll come back and talk lots more about energy efficiency, about the president's speech. We'll talk about ethanol, we'll get into that. I know you all want to talk about that too. So stay with us; we'll be right back after this break.
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FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about energy, and the reaction to President Bush's State of the Union address this week about it, with my guests Peter Tertzakian the chief energy economist at ARC Financial Corporation; author of the book, A Thousand Barrels a Second; Jerome Ringo president of the Apollo Alliance.
I want to switch gears a little bit because the president mentioned quite specifically about ethanol. And, gentlemen, he said you know that we might want to switch toward an ethanol or adding more ethanol into, mix with our gasoline. Peter, what do you think about that?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well...
FLATOW: Is that going to work?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...I think it's good. It will work in complimenting gasoline over the course of the next couple of decades. Is it going to make a difference in the time horizon that, I think, is most immediate, which is the next five to ten years, I would say it's probably unlikely.
FLATOW: What do you thing Jerome?
Mr. RINGO: Well, you know, President Bush proposed more research on a range of clean energy technologies, of course, ethanol from corn and switch grass and better car batteries. And that paves the way for plug in hybrids and wind and solar power.
FLATOW: Mm hmmm.
Mr. RINGO: All these technologies can contribute to energy independence over time. And ethanol is home grown and it could be made from a variety of crops.
If we improve batteries we can move toward flex-fuel-gassed ethanol cars. And it can also plug into ordinary electrical outlets.
FLATOW: Mm hmmm.
Mr. RINGO: You know, these cars are solutions, if we can make these electrical, electricity from the wind and the sun.
FLATOW: Mm hmmm.
Mr. RINGO: But to get there, I believe that the president should provide some incentives: federal loan guarantees that sort of enable Detroit to retool and manufacture those flex fuel cars.
FLATOW: The president, the budget that came out just this week earmarks a lot of money for individual projects in energy to a lot of different companies. Isn't that the kind of thing that you're talking about?
Mr. RINGO: Yeah and I think that's true but it goes beyond that. I just think that when you consider some of the record profits by oil companies and that you know this is money, some of that money could surely be re-introduced back into the market to promote alternative energy, as well as, you know, let's create some incentive to invest back in to these technologies.
So, I think that the President presented some things that were good. Unfortunately, he didn't present enough of it or enough of it that would really make a difference.
FLATOW: Mm hmmm. I want to bring on another guest: Dan Kammen, who is Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and Co-Director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment at U.C. Berkeley. Welcome to Science Friday.
Mr. DANIEL KAMMEN (Director, Renewal and Appropriate Energy Laboratory): How you doing, Ira?
FLATOW: Hi. There has been a lot of debate about ethanol. There are some people that have been saying, you know, this is a miracle, so to speak, product that adds to gasoline. Others have been saying, you know, when you make ethanol, it takes more energy than you get out of ethanol.
You have to use oil to grow the crops, you have to use oil to, or energy to make the fertilizer, when you put all that together, when you grow the crops, or use it from the waste left over from corn let's say, or from the corn itself, you're left with ethanol, but you've put in more energy than you've gotten out of it. You published a paper in Science that says that's not true.
Mr. KAMMEN: Well, that's right. In fact, it's that debate that's been raging for 20 years that really got us interested in the issue. There have been a number of studies that came out on both sides. Some people saying, as you said, it's a miracle crop; some others said it's an energy wasteland. And so we really wanted to, not only, do our own analysis but also try to clarify the debate.
So, what we did was we built a model where we took the six most prominent models available today from non-profit groups, universities, current agriculture. We built them all side-by-side and we built our own scenarios based on what we thought was the best available data.
And we concluded, just as what you said, that in terms of displacing gasoline, so sort of energy security argument, ethanol from corn is a significant winner. In fact, it can displace 95 percent of the gasoline, meaning you need that five percent left to make the, to run the tractors, you know to run the fertilizer et cetera.
So, we conclude that it's in fact a clear winner on the displacing fossil fuel side. And that's what most of the studies and the literature say. But, what we did find though was that ethanol is a very mild winner if it's grown from corn, in terms of the Greenhouse Gases.
We find that you maybe you get a ten or 15 percent reduction in Greenhouse Gases by going to ethanol versus gasoline, but that if you get your ethanol from cellulose, it's just a really exciting big winner on both sides.
And the President mentioned cellulose by name in his State of the Union address and we do need to do some research on it; but it really does look like the future of where ethanol may come from in this country.
FLATOW: Well, walk us through where you would get the cellulose from. He mentioned these grasses that grow wild on the prairie.
Mr. KAMMEN: That's right. I even heard that there was a speech up at his Crawford Ranch, he was going to start growing switch grass...
Mr. KAMMEN: ...which I'm sure really thrilled the Switch Grass Lobby.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KAMMEN: Before you even get to, are we going to grow new bio- energy crops, like growing switch grass or fast growing ...
FLATOW: Well, what is switch grass, for those of us who are not switch grass farmers. What is a switch grass?
Mr. KAMMEN: So, switch grass is basically...
FLATOW: We don't see much of that in New York here. So, can you try to...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KAMMEN: Not growing on Fifth Avenue, that's for sure.
Basically these are woodier, more fibrous crops and sort of anytime you mush up corn you get kind of a mush, a corn mush...
Mr. KAMMEN: ...but when you do up the cellulosa(ph) crops, you see those little kind of soft splinters in there; that's a sign of the lignin(ph). That's the tougher material that you can break down into ethanol. And so, basically, you're talking about denser, more fibrous material to get your ethanol from. And that kind of opens the door to a whole range of sorts of crops that we could begin to grow.
But before we get there, we have a huge amount of bio-waste in this country. Saw mills typically waste not intentionally, but about a third of the material from a tree doesn't go into saw and wood. All that stuff is potential crop matter. Lots of the residues from different farm products are also potential products. And so we've got, already in this country, a very large resource of unused cellulose that we could make into ethanol without even converting one more acre of land into a bio-energy crop.
FLATOW: Now, Brazil is the world leader in ethanol.
Mr. KAMMEN: That's true.
FLATOW: But it makes, and it actually, the U.S. has put a tax on buying ethanol from Brazil, what 50 cents a gallon or something like that?
Mr. KAMMEN: That's right.
FLATOW: And we could buy a lot of ethanol from Brazil, but it, there's strong lobby against it.
Mr. KAMMEN: Well, there is. I don't disagree with that to start off with. I mean, right now, because we do have so much bio-mass we're not using, I think it makes sense to support American industry and American farmers not protectionism but let's build up our industry. I mean they, Brazil has a 25 year head start because they got going on this when everyone basically laughed at them, and now Brazil meets half of its gasoline equivalent for passenger vehicles with ethanol.
Ethanol sales were about half of what gasoline does at the pump there and it's a raging success, in fact, Japan has a very large contract with Brazil to export about a billion, billion point four dollars, 1.4 billion dollars worth of ethanol to Brazil. So, I would like to see us buy in that market, but I'd like to see us build up the domestic American industry first.
FLATOW: Well, they make ethanol from sugar cane, right?
Mr. KAMMEN: Mm hmmm.
FLATOW: and is that a different kind of ethanol that would come out of sugar cane versus what we would be making?
Mr. KAMMEN: It is. We're not likely to grow sugar cane here because it's, the climate in Brazil is suited for it, it's not here. It's quite water intensive. I see these other crops, like switch grass, which can grow in prairies and areas, sugar beats, a whole range of things, as well as again some of the fast-growing trees that are more likely to be our crop.
And I did just hear that at least one auto manufacturer is going to use the Super Bowl as a chance to unleash a new campaign called Live Green, Go Yellow which is clearly a corn-based ethanol program and we haven't even started to think about what are the ways that we might optimize corn
FLATOW: Mm hmmm, right.
Mr. KAMMEN: ...to make it a better source of the ethanol, given that we're sort of going to use corn-based ethanol in the short term as the cellulosic industry takes off.
FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Let's go to Harvey in Berkeley. Hi, Harvey.
HARVEY (Caller): Hi there.
HARVEY: Yes, I'd like to talk about the new million solar roof initiative here in California.
FLATOW: Mm hmm.
HARVEY: They just passed it with a whole new rebate program, plus we'll be able to sell our generated power back to the utility for credits and I believe cash. And I think the route to the future is that we plug in our electric cars, at least here in California, into our solar electric roof tops because with the coming of the new plug-in hybrid, it makes sense because it goes 60 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in. So you can go to work and come back the average commute is 60 miles, so you just plug it in to your solar roof top and I think that is the way of the future especially to cut the carbon in the air.
And, about the war on oil, here, in Iraq, we're spending another 70 billion dollars for it and that's, I hate to say that, but the people of America are financing the war for the war on oil and then they don't' even get the booties. The oil companies get the booty and they're getting untold profits Exxon and Chevron, they're selling the booty back to America at unbelievably high prices. So, I think America's getting totally ripped off by this, and its time to go solar.
FLATOW: Let me get uh, Peter Tertzakian, any reaction?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Yeah, yeah I think you know the big issue here in broad terms is understanding the scale of the issue. Okay the scale of the issue both from an oil perspective and from an electricity perspective. From the number of vehicles perspective. You really need to under . . . There's 230 million vehicles. If we, all of those started to plug into the electricity grid, uh, you've got a big problem. The electrical grid is already stressed. Solar panels, wind turbines.
These are all great. Unfortunately, they're not easily scalable. Again I'm not trying to go down on these things. I think they're wonderful technologies. They have their place but people need to come to grips with the scale of the problem that we're dealing with. I like to say that a lot of these things are just a drip in the barrel when it comes to solving the problems.
And the time horizons for substitutions of these new technologies is not measured in months or even years. It's often measured in decades. Brazil is a great example. I mean it was mentioned. They started in 1975. Thirty years they've been doing this. You know we're at ground zero here.
FLATOW: We had that opportunity with President Carter in when he ran so.
HARVEY: Yeah but there is a difference. I mean, Carter had the right intention but many of these technologies just weren't ready for prime time, technically and definitely financially then. Energy efficiency was and has been but I would like to comment on both, both that last statement and also the caller before. It is true that these things take a while to change but we have seen Germany, which does not have a particularly great wind resource, go from a relatively small player to the world's dominant installer of wind power in under a decade. Northern Germany today gets 25 percent of its electricity from wind on the average month then it peaks at 50. So while Peter is right and these changes could take a long time and take some real leadership, we also have examples like Brazil offsetting half their gasoline. Like Germany doing this. Like Denmark being a great exporter of windmills. And California with this new plan to basically extend the current existing rebates for solar. I contend that we haven't even tried to explore the upside very much yet. And we may discover that the Germany examples are actually more common than we think. When you start putting solar on everybody's rooftop, who knows how the grid and utilities may respond to take advantage of that.
FLATOW: Ed, did Germany have to redo its grid. 'Cause one of the things, we talked about this for years on this program, and we keep hearing you know wind is a great idea except how do you get the energy to the grid?
FLATOW: Because you're going to be in isolated areas where the wind is blowing. Did Germany have to redesign its grid. And in this country we know how creaky the grid is.
FLATOW: It would be a great opportunity to redesign the grid. You'd go to a giant scale project. You know an Apollo moon project sort of idea about energy.
HARVEY: That's right. Well Germany, in fact, did not have to redo the grid in any way that wasn't planned. They were already rebuilding largely because after their reunification with East Germany they were investing in the grid anyway. And you don't need to put billions into it to put wind on. What you need to do is to make sure that you have lines going out to where the wind farms are going to be. And so they did some advanced planning. But it also turns out in this, and Britain's doing the same thing.
There are many old, as you call them creaky power lines, where actually what you'd need to stabilize it is some power, not at the central station but at the end of line. And so what England is doing right now is they're installing relatively small wind farms, one, two, three turbines at the end to help stabilize it. And so you do need to do some planning, which is of course not the U.S.'s strong suit in this regard. But we're already you know on a program right now to invest something like 100 billion in the grid just to bring it back up to code. So in essence the right time to do the things we do, we need to do to make the grid so-called smart.
So they can take the wind power from one person's roof, and the solar off of my roof and the power that a building, that if I should go green, and generate more than it's pro, it needs, can feed that power back in just like the last caller mentioned.
FLATOW: Talking about energy this hour on Talk of the Nation Science Friday today from NPR News. I would think Jerome Ringo that, that considering all the construction and building. Whatever that would be needed to convert to alternative energies like wind and other things, and helping the grid, that businesses would jump on this idea, would love to.
Mr. RINGO: And business are jumping on the idea. The Apollo Alliance has part of its alliance, a business element that is growing daily. Businesses and large companies as well as small businesses are becoming very interested in how they can get involved in the whole independence, uh, uh, on independence idea, energy independence idea. And how we could, they can become more involved in the alternative energy debate. And as well there is legislation that's already being presented and have been presented concepts of like that of Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington.
She has proposals on the table that, that would reduce imports of foreign oil. She has proposals on the table that would cut by 40 percent all the imports by 2025. I believe that these, these initiatives that are on the table should be considered by the White House to beef up the inadequate plan that the President presented to us just several nights ago. So there are opportunities here. Businesses are getting on board. We have broad constituency of individuals and organizations getting on board because this is good for America, and good for the economy of America.
FLATOW: Dan before I let you go I want to ask you. Is there enough land out there to grow the kind of grasses and things, and, and corn that we would need to make all the ethanol? And will we taking food out of people's mouths rather than?
Mr. KAMMEN: It's a good question. The current analysis. I'm going to refer to work done by the Natural Sources Defense Council. Indicates that there is plenty of land and not even need to go to much new acreage. And land that we're paying farmers not to grow on is a wonderful resource. But also resource I mentioned in the beginning that we haven't even begun to explore how much of our current waste stream we could put into this and so in California's central valley where there is real air pollution problems from burning rice shells and the shells from walnuts and, and an off-take from the farm.
All that is a resource and so we may discover that ethanol ideally celulosic becomes 30 percent of our total transformation fuel. That will be a nice point to get to. And we need to make some trade offs. But we're so far from that now, and have such a large resource that is being wasted or actually has negative costs 'cause we burn it to get rid of it. That we've got a huge upside. In California there's an initiative that is coming down the pike that will ask over 10 years for the state to reduce its gasoline use by fully a quarter. And will actually be funded on what, I believe it was Jerome who mentioned before that was a tax on the uh, on the very high profits in the oil industry right now.
Mr. KAMMEN: I certainly see those as options that all work together to do what you're describing.
FLATOW: Stay with us we'll be right back. We're going to take a short break and switch and bring on the whole foods people who are talking about wind energy. We'll be right back stay with us.
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You're listening to Talk of the Nation Science Friday. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about energy, alternative energy, getting off that oil addiction. Sounds like déjà vu all over again. I know we've been talking about it for 35 years. My guests are Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance, Peter Tertzakian, Tertzakian, I'm sorry, Chief Energy Economist at ARC Financial Corporation. Author of the book A Thousand Barrels A Second. Our number 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to the phone call for a quick call. George in Raleigh, North Carolina. Hi George.
GEORGE (Caller): Hi guys.
FLATOW: Hi there.
GEORGE: Ira and gentleman I would like to ask. It seems that hydrogen fuel cells have just been completely missing from all this. I wanted to know what happened to that. That seemed very promising.
FLATOW: The president did mention, I think, fuel cells, did he not in his, his State of the Union? But he didn't talk about hydrogen in general you're right. Peter what do you think?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well I think they're very far out. I mean you know we've got to talk about this stuff not from the perspective of new technology but from the perspective of these things being products. And the adoption of products is dependent upon them being compelling better and cheaper. For example, DVDs over VCRs. Compelling products now cheaper sales take off. And I think this is, this is the issue with not only with hydrogen vehicles but even that of say ethanol vehicles is has to really demonstrate that these things are compellingly better and cheaper, and offer the same sort of utility that we're accustomed to in other words, range and easability, easy to fill up and so on. So the prospects for hydrogen being compellingly better and cheaper over the course of the near term, is very very unlikely. Probably toward the end of the next decade, I think we may start to see something but not in the near term.
FLATOW: Well if you don't, if you don't prepare in the future for it, how do you ever get to the next decade.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: No absolutely right. I mean my argument in all of this is that we don't want to condition the people to thinking that there's overnight solutions here. Which is I think what is being done in some of these public policy speeches where, you know, don't worry the scientists will take care of it. We'll be independent in six to 10 years. I mean this is the type of thing we have to get away from. We need to have an admission of the real scale of the problem and the fact that its not going to be solved overnight. And the rally cry, as even Jerome mentioned, needs to be strengthened.
FLATOW: Jerome the rally cry might it be show some leadership?
Mr. RINGO: Yes and I agree that the changes are going to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. But That's got to be a catalyst to get the changes started. The president fell short of that opportunity and the Apollo plan which includes a plan for hydrogen future to invest in long term research and development for hydrogen fuel cells technology. The President missed that as an opportunity to actually get this moving forward. I think it is a process that will take some time. But eventually we will get there and I think a great catalyst to get that moving is the Ten point Plan for Energy Independence that Apollo Alliance is initiating.
FLATOW: On the other hand he did bring it up for discussion and you know we're talking about it today. A lot of people have been talking about it this week.
Mr. RINGO: And yes the President brought a number of things up for discussion what my concern is that the president has, in the past, offered proposals and then he's turned around and broken those promises. He's had a history of that. He brought proposals forward in the last uh, uh, State of the Union Address uh, and uh, uh, and you know just days after the address the last president, uh, the last address, the president's budget request cut funding for seven renewable energy and energy efficient program including research for ethanol. So I'm not very optimistic with promises of the President with the hoopla and all that he is presenting. Uh, we'll just let his, his actions do the talking. And see exactly how serious he is and if he is, he will adopt programs and initiatives like that put forth by Senator Gantwell.
FLATOW: For instead of waiting for government action, some people are already acting on their own. The Whole Foods Grocery. You may be familiar with them. It's a chain that announced that it would buy renewable energy credits for wind. Sort of vouchers. Saying that its energy was coming from a specific source. In this case, wind power. And they announced not just a little bit of energy. Enough wind to power equal to the chain's entire electric consumption for the year. And while its not putting the windmills on the roofs of every store, the deal makes the company the largest buyer of wind energy credits in North America. Joining me now is Michael Besancon. He's the Southern Pacific Regional President for Whole Foods Market, which is based in Austin, Texas. He joins us by phone. Welcome to Science Friday.
Mr. MICHAEL BESANCON (Pacific Regional President for Whole Foods Market): Thanks Ira. Pleased to be here.
FLATOW: Yeah. How much energy are we talking about, in megawatts?
Mr. BESANCON: We're looking at 450,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy credits.
FLATOW: Wow. And why did you decide, as a corporation, to do this?
Mr. BESANCON: Well one of the core values of Whole Foods Market, from our very inception, has been the community and environmental stewardship. And we've gotten to a size where we could actually make a difference and make a buy for renewable energy credits that meant something. And clearly, it was significant based on the size.
Actually, the largest user or buyer of renewable energy credits for wind is actually the United States Air Force.
FLATOW: Oh, well, so, you're the commercial winner then.
Mr. BESANCON: We are the commercial winner. I think we're in pretty good technological company with the United States Air Force.
FLATOW: And you know what, it's actually the Navy, I think, that buys the most diesel fuel, and it's buying a bio-diesel more than anybody else at this point.
Mr. BESANCON: I think you're correct.
FLATOW: Yeah. Now, it doesn't mean that your store, or any of your stores individually, actually get the wind power, right?
Mr. BESANCON: No. What happens is the wind generates electricity on wind farms across the country; Colorado, the Dakotas, California, Texas. And those electrons go into the grid. What we've done is we've bought the green attribute of the wind power to help sustain and build new wind farms, to continue to move us towards the energy independence that the President spoke about in his State of the Union address.
FLATOW: Um hm. That's interesting that you're based in Austin, Texas, because you may know that Texas has the second highest installed base of wind power.
FLATOW: Next to California. And that happened under the governorship of President Bush.
Mr. BESANCON: Well, I could speak to that. I don't know how that went down. I have my suspicions that it may not have been directly at his hand.
Mr. BESANCON: But certainly there's a lot of wind in Texas, and there's, they've taken advantage of that.
FLATOW: Yeah, you would, you know, they're a good model for the rest of the country. Texas has its own energy grid also, which makes it a little bit easier. Do you...
Mr. BESANCON: It does, and it's a, you know, they've done a lot of good work down there in Austin. And they're also doing a lot of good work on bio-diesel down there, so...
FLATOW: Yeah. Do you, have you heard from other large green- conscious companies who say, you know, now that you've done this, maybe we should try it also?
Mr. BESANCON: We've heard rumblings. I know that the people at Renewable Choice, where we bought our wind credits from, are hearing from folks. And I think that people will look at this and see that there really is something that can be done, that we can take steps as individual companies that can make a difference. And apparently we have to do that, as companies, to really move the country forward on renewable energy.
FLATOW: Michael Besancon, thank you for taking time to talk with us.
Mr. BESANCON: My pleasure. Thanks Ira.
FLATOW: He is the Southern Pacific Regional President for Whole Foods Market, and he's based in Austin, Texas.
Our number 1-800-989-8255, is our number.
Also with us is Peter Tertzakian. He's chief energy economist and a director of ARC Financial Corporation; author of A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World. And Jerome Ringo, President of the Apollo Alliance.
Jerome, what do you think of the Whole Foods Company's idea?
Mr. RINGO: Well, you know, I don't have a lot of knowledge on their idea, and really can't give you a lot of comment on it.
FLATOW: Well, let me ask Peter.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well I would say, you know, Bravo. I mean, I think we need more of that type of corporate leadership and individual leadership.
But I think it also brings about a really important point that needs to be addressed, and that is that, whether it's wind, solar, nuclear, clean coal, all these things generate electricity, okay? In the United States now, only 2%, 2% to 3% of the electricity generated comes from burning oil. That means that all of these technologies are not substitutes for oil.
And actually I'd like to get back to Germany, because...
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: ...you could point to that, and it's really important to know the distinction about that model and why it won't necessarily work over here. See, with reunification, East Germany was heavily dependent upon burning oil for generating electricity, and these wind farms basically came in, which is great, and pushed oil burning out of the market. So indeed, Germany's oil consumption is going down.
But here in the United States, that transition was made after the oil crisis in the 1970's. Back then, 20 percent of the electricity generated came from oil. Jimmy Carter put in the Fuel Use Act, said you can't burn oil or natural gas, you have to go to coal or nuclear power, and those were the big-time substitutes that came in and pushed oil out of the United States electrical power market.
So today, if you talk about windmills and solar panels and all the other electrical generating technologies, there is no more oil to push out of the United States power grid. Or nothing substantial. The issue is in transportation.
Mr. RINGO: Cars, busses, trucks, things like that.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Cars, SUVs, trucks; that is where the issue is. And you know, when we talk about this addiction that President Bush talks about, I mean, it's actually in my book, I talk about the addition. The issue is, like, what are we trying to do here? We're telling somebody, say, for example, who is an alcoholic and he's addicted to vodka, and metaphorically when you talk about ethanol, we're saying, okay, let's switch this guy over to vodka, or to bourbon.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, you know, the issue is that you're addicted. Maybe you ought to try to think about easing off the bottle rather than just switching the fuels around.
FLATOW: Mm hm. But is that going to come from the top down, or from the grass roots job?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Yeah, I mean, as I said, it's a holistic thing. I mean, the policy initiatives that are required, that followed the rally cry, have to multi-pronged. You can't, as I said from the beginning, you cannot rely exclusively just on technology. There has to be more to it than that, there has to be wholesale change of attitude in terms of what the people drive, how they live, and things like that. I mean, it's, there are not easy outs, there are no easy solutions. And that's really what the book is about is that, you know, we really have to think that there are no longer any easy solutions to help us through this.
FLATOW: And yet the President never asks us to sacrifice. He didn't ask, you know, (unintelligible).
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well lots of other Presidents have.
Mr. RINGO: Absolutely.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: And, you know, my contention is that that will have to come. And that is when you know that the real rally cries here, the rally cry with the teeth that says, Okay, now you have to think about lifestyle.
FLATOW: We're talking with Peter Tertzakian, author of A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World, and Jerome Ringo, President of the Apollo Alliance, on TALK OF THE NATION - SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR News.
Our number 1-800-989-8255. Let's see if we can get a phone call until we have to go. Bonnie in Sheldon, New York.
BONNIE (Caller): Hi.
BONNIE: Thanks for having me on. I belong to a small group of people in Sheldon, New York, who are fighting against the larger wind turbine companies who are funded by private people. We're trying to get our own wind turbines up and running, so that, we want to propose our own energy and get the benefits from it for our own town.
They want to propose much, many, many turbines in our town, and quite frankly they'll, its upstate New York, and they'll ruin the beautiful, pristine countryside that's here. And we all, we don't agree with it, but it's being pushed and forced upon us. And so, we're looking now towards putting up, maybe, you know, forty wind turbines. They propose 86 turbines. And, our farmers who want them on their land, who will benefit from the money and our town that will benefit from the money, we'll get lots more money. Lots and lots more money.
FLATOW: So you're saying you're not opposed to the turbines, you just want fewer of them and spaced out into other parts, so they're not all in your spot.
BONNIE: Yeah, we want to have more of a say as to where they go and how many of them get put up.
FLATOW: And where do you think this is going to, do you think you have a chance of being successful?
BONNIE: Well, a town near us that's called Perry is in fact working with a Congressman to get some funding for their own turbine company.
FLATOW: Well good luck to you Bonnie.
BONNIE: Yes. Thank you.
FLATOW: Thanks for calling.
BONNIE: You're welcome.
FLATOW: We're running out of time. You're welcome.
What do you think of that, Peter? Now we're starting to see some of the turf battles.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Right. Well, this highlights another, a problem. There are four dimensions to energy in general that we need to consider. People over the course of the last decade, several decades, have become accustomed to cheap, clean, secure, and what I call discreet energy. And the discreet means, like, not in my backyard. What I would argue to you is that it's not only oil, but it's all types of energies, those four dimensions, cheap, clean, secure, and discreet, do not go together anymore. You can't have it all.
People have to start making choices, so if you want your energy to be cheap, you know, I'm sorry, you're going to have to put up with some pipelines or some wind turbines, or whatever. The only thing that could mitigate that, as I said, is changing lifestyle, conservation and so on.
So, I mean, we are in a period where people are going to have to start thinking about making lifestyle choices. And, if you want it cheap, you're going to have to sacrifice something.
FLATOW: And we're not expecting the price of oil to come down a whole lot anymore.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: No, in fact...
FLATOW: We're in a new, it's a new ballgame now, is what you're saying.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: It is. We're in a period of transition. It's one of those rare transitions in the history of energy, which is really what the book talks about where things are going to have to get shaken up. And I guess, really, what I'm arguing is you can expect the price of oil to spike up a lot higher, and I'm not alone in saying that, and I think that will ultimately catalyze the rally cry.
FLATOW: And make alternative energy options seem more viable, because it will (unintelligible) the price of oil where it's expensive.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, yeah, sure. Sure. But even more important than that, the rally cry will have to address the issue of, you know, how do we balance these four dimensions that I talked about. If you want it cheap, you're going to have to sacrifice something.
FLATOW: What would you say the rally cry is?
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Well, the rally cry is very similar to something like the rally cry after September 11th. The War on Terror. I mean, that is the strength of this nation, is the people to rally around the flag, around a cause. And just imagine if that type of rally cry were applied to this energy situation, what you could do.
FLATOW: Yeah. Thank you very much for taking time to be with us. Peter Tertzakian is the chief energy economist and a Director of ARC Financial Corporation; also author of the book A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World. Also thank you Jerome Ringo, the President of the Apollo Alliance, for taking time to be with us today.
Mr. RINGO: Thank you.
FLATOW: You're welcome.
Mr. TERTZAKIAN: Thank you very much.
FLATOW: You're welcome.