Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine threatens the post-World War II world order. His indiscriminate attacks against the people of Ukraine, including women and children, have created an unforgivable humanitarian crisis for which he must one day be held accountable.
In the near term, his actions upended energy markets worldwide. People are feeling the pain at the gas pump and politicians are grasping for any antidote. Governors of American states that rely on gas taxes for their transportation and other government funding needs are declaring gas tax holidays.
In Congress, Republicans are calling for a return to energy independence with more domestic oil and gas production, including approving the Keystone XL pipeline, while Democrats see it as an opportunity to double down faster on green energy. The latter ignore the fact that environmental regulations are preventing the building of more environmentally friendly energy projects. Even if we could immediately ramp up renewables, the country would still need to reduce our reliance on Chinese minerals.
Not to worry though, the International Energy Agency, or IEA, just released proposals. First it released a 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas, immediately followed by a 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use.
Let’s look at the highlights of the IEA’s plan to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian gas:
- No new gas supplies with Russia. Seems like stating the obvious, except that the obvious would have been to name the now infamous Nordstream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.
- Replace Russian supplies with gas from alternative sources. Thankfully, in this case, “alternative sources” mostly means alternative gas supplies, not renewables. Germany already relies too heavily on renewables without having secure sources of natural gas. This refusal to work with any and all abundant sources of energy is what got us here in the first place.
- Introduce minimum gas storage obligations to enhance market resilience. Seems long overdue, but needs to happen some time, so ok.
- Accelerate the deployment of new wind and solar projects. Again, nothing against renewable energy, but does the IEA know where most solar panels are made? (hint: starts with a C and ends with an A). Chinese minerals are mined for not just solar and wind, but also for defense and consumer product applications. First we need to accelerate the manufacturing of renewable energy components and the critical minerals that go into them in countries other than China. Otherwise, we are trading our overreliance on oil and gas for an overreliance on Chinese minerals and manufacturing.
- Maximize generation from existing dispatchable low-emissions sources: bioenergy and nuclear. In other words, reverse course and double down on nuclear energy. Man the decks and ramp up the moth-balled generators!
- Enact short-term measures to shelter vulnerable electricity consumers from high prices. In other words, fix government policy failures with more government policy dictates. When prices go up because of bad government policy, the solution isn’t to mandate lower prices; it is to use markets to lower prices and access abundant sources of energy.
- Speed up the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps. And the electricity to run the heat pumps will come from…?.
- Accelerate energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry. Great idea, but one that will take years. Nothing happens fast in building or industry. These are decades long upgrades that require retrofits, whole building system upgrades, and dramatically reinventing industrial processes.
- Encourage a temporary thermostat adjustment by consumers. This might be my favorite. Turn your thermostats down and put on your winter coats! Until summer, when you’ll turn them up and sweat it out in a bathing suit.
- Step up efforts to diversify and decarbonise sources of power system flexibility. Yes and Yes! But this will take time. Is this a signal that the IEA is preparing for the war in Ukraine to drag on for decades?
Assuming that we can accomplish all of those recommendations, now let’s move on to the IEA’s plan for cutting oil use. Here’s where we really get our money’s worth. Rather than comment on every point, I’ll tick off some lowlights:
- Reduce speed limits on highways by at least 10 km/h. Electric golf carts are actually the perfect solution for this.
- Work from home up to three days a week where possible. Has the IEA heard about the pandemic?
- Car-free Sundays in cities. A sabbath for cars in the city, which will further encourage people to move out of the cities, meaning they’ll end up commuting further five days a week.
- Make the use of public transport cheaper and incentivise micro-mobility, walking and cycling. Indeed, let’s privatize public transportation. Otherwise, the government-run DC Metro system could set the tone: improve service and lower prices to increase ridership. And as for walking and cycling, look for a tax credit coming your way soon.
- Alternate private car access to roads in large cities. It’s always 1979, apparently. Anyone else remember gas rationing with odd even license plates in the glory days of Jimmy Carter?
- Increase car sharing and adopt practices to reduce fuel use. Time to rally your neighbors and drive in to work together to avoid the tolls. Oh wait, people in cities like Washington, DC have already been carpooling to avoid excessive tolls for a while.
- Promote efficient driving for freight trucks and delivery of goods. Truckers and trucking companies know the impact of fuel costs better than anybody. But leave it to the IEA to play backseat driver.
- Using high-speed and night trains instead of planes where possible. Seems obvious to use trains where possible, as long as they are cost effective compared to other options and sync up with people’s schedules. That can be difficult in the U.S. It would take some 32 hours to train from Chicago to Denver, for example, but just three hours by plane.
- Avoid business air travel where alternative options exist. See point 2.
- Reinforce the adoption of electric and more efficient vehicles. Electric vehicles are cool. No doubt about it. But until we reduce our reliance on Chinese minerals, trading less gasoline use or more reliance for Chinese minerals doesn’t seem wise. As for efficiency in vehicles, yes, efficiency is always good.
So, to sum it up, we should all drive slower, every other day, in an electric golf cart charged by wind or the sun, with neighbors, and only at night. If that’s asking too much, then just walk, bike, or take the night train.
All joking aside, a cleaner energy future is important, very much needed and possible.
What we need is a 10-Point Plan for Abundant Clean Energy that includes all forms of energy. It must start with increasing production of proven and abundant sources of energy, along with increasing all types of energy innovation, while removing government bottlenecks to deploying more energy, and reducing our reliance on critical minerals from China.
If we do those things, our energy future will be cleaner, affordable, reliable, and secure. Anything short of those and we’re just kidding ourselves in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more serious.
For the sake of Ukraine and the future of the free world, it’s time to go all in on our abundant sources of energy and innovation, in America and across the world with our allies. By shoring up our energy security today, we can build a cleaner energy future for tomorrow.