Energy Musings After Decades of Hype and Thinking About Solutions

Kumar Thangudu

March 10, 2018

I spend so much time thinking about energy.

Every decade or so the hype-scientists want us to be infatuated with the latest technologies instead of real solutions that are viable and work today.

Biofuels Are All The Rage

They were all the rage until they weren’t.

Biofuels didn’t pan out at all, turns out it’s really hard to control speciation and water costs among many reasons.


But What about the Hydrogen Fuel Cell?


This never panned out at all. Here’s a great presentation by a physicist from my Alma Mater explaining why:

The CEO of Tesla became a mainstream name in US households.

Do You Smell the Musk in the Air?

Now we’re in the hype cycle of electric vehicles for consumer usage and <500 mile freight transport.

Electric vehicles and their supposed benefits to humanity are mostly fantastical in nature.

We have teslas, volts, nissans, and much more with their own grandiose figures — Musk, Agassi, Ghosn that dominate the way we see the media.

Electric vehicle infrastrucure is still but a tiny droplet in the overall economy, but it is heavily subsidized into existence.

I’ve watched for decades studying how America pillaged itself into inefficiency despite having something that worked really well…..

We Had Something that Worked — Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standard [CAFE]

At the start of the late 1980’s, the US created the biggest range of zero-fucks-given by getting rid of efficiency standards and halting them.

We called our efficiency standard the corporate automobile fuel efficiency (CAFE) policy.



Right around 1985 we froze the standard and sure enough things stagnated, so much for “free markets” working. There’s no incentive to create a car that consumes less of something. Ignore the right half of this chart, it’s speculation.

It was awesome, it encouraged max efficiency.

Over the last 30 years, since we’ve frozen the standard around 1985, we’ve had tanking efficiency on vehicular performance improvement.


Normal car performance these days sticks between 15 and 25 mpg, whereas if we continued on our warpath to efficiency with a non-frozen CAFE standard, I believe we’d have 35–45 mpg with high performance diesel vehicles and performant gas ones too.

I remember hearing estimates that by keeping the standard’s improvements in place, America would have saved 1T to 2T USD on gas/oil.

In Texas, we even encouraged gas guzzling vehicles by giving massive subsidizes to anyone buying a gas guzzler heavy weight vehicle for business purposes.


Pure Lunacy and Silicon Valley Naivete

T Boone Picken’s went down the wind route, but it was just a bunch of hot air.

You need a lot of coal to make steel to make wind turbines. The equation doesn’t really make sense if you’re trying to save the environment.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to crazy proposals too.

  • “Let’s have ships that push out mist and even shoving sulfur into the air to cool the planet. “ — just pure lunacy.
  • “Let’s install solar panels everywhere.” — we have nowhere viable to store the energy and it would require millions of solar panels to even provide 10% of necessary energy. When the sun goes down you’d need trillions of dollars worth of batteries to make up for it.
  • “Let’s sequester carbon” — There’s no market for it and this is done at a regulatory not technological level.
  • “Let’s wait for battery tech to catch up so solar will work” — — We’ve been waiting for decades, it’s hard to squeeze more efficiency in storage out of batteries, meanwhile people will die.

All of the above will lead to mass death by air pollution, which we already have a lot of. Every day 24K people die from causes linked to air pollution.

There are very few substantive people in Energy in Silicon Valley, if someone tells you something about solar or wind, and they don’t have a clear and substantive explanation of embodied energy pathways, you can ignore them for the most part.

If they cite “exponential improvement” in battery chemistry — simply dismiss them.

If they cite fusion being on the horizon, ask them a simple question — how do you separate hydrogen isotopes from a lithium reactor jacket? within 5 years or less?

If they tell you about the future of Fusion, throw some coal in their dinner plate and fumes in their house because millions will die each year while we wait for this.

If you want to know a viable solution to the environmental doom that is headed our way, here it is:

  • Reinstate aggressive CAFE standards and raise a riot about it at local congressional level.
  • Encourage Nuclear Plant Fabrication
  • Mandate high efficiency natural gas furnaces in all US government buildings and new residential homes.
  • Use all your products longer — steel, fabrics, and textiles especially
  • Implement Simple Tax Incentives for Carbon Capture
  • Fast-track hydro and geothermal if possible in available untapped locations(few)
  • Create an embodied energy index that people can follow which clearly delineates for all materials and products how much energy was required to make it and whether that energy was good, bad, or ugly in terms of pollution created.

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