Natural Gas Vehicles, Here We Come
Yet as a number of experts have pointed out, the Pickens scheme has some serious flaws. Yes, the plan could help us tackle our oil and carbon problems, but compared to what? A better use for America's vast shale-gas reserves may be to displace coal in the electricity sector. A recent MIT report on "The Future of Natural Gas" found that electric utilities could cut their carbon emissions 22 percent simply by switching from coal to natural gas—and that's with no additional capital investments. And that would be on top of any additional wind turbines that got built.Office 2007 makes life great!
And what about transportation? There's a good argument that electric vehicles are a better investment in the long term. In the grand scheme of things, the combustion engine is pretty inefficient—only about 20 percent of the energy in the fuel gets used to power the car, with the rest lost as waste heat. By contrast, a combined-cycle gas turbine is about 60 percent efficient. So we'd be much better off using natural gas to generate electricity and running plug-in vehicles off the grid. Yes, electric vehicles are costly and require new charging stations. But so do natural gas vehicles—and, as a 2002 analysis in Energy Policy noted, natural-gas cars and fueling stations have historically turned out to be far, far more costly than expected.Office 2007 download is on sale now!
Long story short: Natural gas vehicles aren't a horrible idea. They beat the status quo. But there are lots of non-status-quo ideas for curbing oil consumption out there, and many of them are likely to be far more cost-effective. As Adam Siegel has noted, simply electrifying rail transport would cut oil use 2.5 million barrels per day by 2020—twice as much as CAP's gas-vehicle plan at half the cost. Yet Picken's scheme is the only one getting any love. Why?Office 2010 key is for you now!
Update: Okay, according to staffers, it looks like the bill will mainly have $5 billion for natural-gas trucks. So it's not the whole Pickens plan. It's only a tiny, tiny slice. And, it's true, limiting the focus to trucks makes more sense, since trucks have to move long distances and aren't really suited to electrification anyway (batteries still have fairly short ranges). Still, it's stunning that this is one of the only ideas for curbing oil use that made it into the bill.