Over thinking the future: Hybrids, plug-ins and natural gas
Is too much focus on the future always a good thing?
Forgive me if I come across a little incoherent, angry, or overly pessimistic. Tomorrow I’m burying my 37 year old brother, whom died late last week in a tragic accident. So, obviously, my range of emotions is wide and strong.
Anyway, as I ponder the meaning of life, I cannot help but think about how I’ve spent almost the last 10 years of my life — significantly focused on foreign oil dependence and technologies that can alleviate the problem.
Much of the last decade, I believed that an embrace of batteries was the most critical energy focus — pretty much the only focus — whether that led to the mainstreaming of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell hybrids or pure battery electrics. I’ve never favored a technology, I’ve always only favored the most expedient path towards the goal: energy independence, starting with OPEC independence. In fact, I’ve always believed that all battery technologies would be needed for a long time.
Today, I still believe that batteries are the critical technology to focus on in terms of the future, but that doesn’t mean they should be the only focus, especially when the future is so unpredictable.
10 years ago, for instance, I believed the US would be much further along in terms of a game-changing energy policy. I fully believed technology would evolve faster than expected. Batteries would be much further along. The hybrid premium would be down to a year, two years tops.
In addition to my technological optimism, I was also very ignorant about just how massive was the global auto industry, and just how important global supply chains are to the entire auto industry. I also had no idea about the legacy affect of the current fleet of autos and how long it takes to offset this legacy effect with new technologies, whether they be new seat belts or lithium-ion battery packs.
Revolutionary change in the auto industry simply doesn’t happen over night, or even over a few years. It takes more than a decade, and if you think about it on a worldwide scale, it literally takes decades. And numerous world markets are becoming ever more interconnected and inter-dependent, especially when it comes to profits.
Thus, after a decade of focusing my life around this issue, and having seen very little change, I’ve come to believe that maybe the problem is that there is simply always too much focus on tomorrow, and never enough focus on today. Even though we could change today, we don’t embrace it, because it isn’t big enough change. Tomorrow will always offer so much better opportunities.
Well, whatever future, whatever tomorrow, my brother had planned is gone. It no longer matters. Fortunately, at least my brother mostly lived in the moment, and was much less focused on the future than most, including myself.
For the last few years now, I’ve become annoyed with the politics of energy. For instance, far too many battery-powered fans pooh-pooh hybrids, even plug-in hybrids. The battery electric is sooo superior. It doesn’t matter what consumer studies and actions indicate about their near or interim potential, anything other than battery electrics is stupid. Ideas like natural gas are even worse. Ironically, these people have become almost as counterproductive and as much a part of the problem as the ‘drill, drill, drill only’ folks.
It’s as if they’d prefer no change today in favor of waiting for more perfect change tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the next day, or the next, etc.
Certainly, long term vision is a good thing, especially when it comes to technology, and the “drillers” need to wake up regarding this fact because even the natural gas boom was driven by technology and innovation. But you can’t think too far into the future when it comes to technology because it is simply unpredictable. In my opinion, technology doesn’t evolve through constant revolutionary changes, it adapts, constantly. More important it surprises.
If you embrace technology, then you inevitably embrace constant change, and change is never perfect or smooth. In the software world we used to call this inevitability the ‘workaround’.
Today US energy policy needs a workaround. Like my brother’s death, no one expects that the Iranian situation, for instance, could explode out of control, just as no one really expected 9/11, or my brother’s untimely death. Sure things might get a little hard, we expect, but we never expect the worst case scenario, yet history, and life, proves the worst case scenario does happen.
Today, the US is heading towards its third great energy spike in just the last few years, and there seems little reason to believe that this isn’t the new world order for many years to come, and there will be no quick or easy solutions. But it seems stupid not to take advantage of today.
When it comes to energy consumption, America — all of us — are and have been the 1 percenters for a long. We need to stop this madness as soon as possible. We’ve already done enough damage. Now isn’t the time to wait for a miracle drug, now is the time to stop the bleeding.
Today, natural gas is just as important as are batteries, perhaps even more important in the short term. Without an energy compromise, however, the chances of the unthinkable simply become more plausible, and then we’ll wish we had taken more advantage of the moment. That we had seized the day.