Nancy Pelosi’s two dilemmas

October 5, 2010

By Robert Taylor
Founding Partner
Energy Futures Network

CALGARY, AB, Oct. 5, 2010/ Troy Media/ – During her September visit to Canada to discuss the ongoing development of Canada’s oil sands, U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi reportedly said that she is “not keen on fossil fuels”, which can only lead one to believe that America has a ready and preferable alternative.

That same week I received a copy of a chart prepared by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) (via Richard Adamson, Managing Director of Carbon Management Canada). The combination of the two tweaked my interest.

Not keen on fossil fuels

Whether Pelosi was accurately quoted or not, her preference for “not fossil fuels” provides her with two dilemmas:

Dilemma #1: When she got up that morning and turned on the lights and her coffee maker, there is a 66 per cent chance that her electricity was fuelled by coal or natural gas – fossil energy. When she got in the hot shower, same thing. The limo that took her to the airport – fossil fuel. The kerosene fuelled aircraft that flew her to the meeting – fossil fuel. While Ms. Pelosi may not be “keen” on fossil fuels, like the rest of the citizens of advanced economies (including the Chair of the IPCC), she faces the dilemma of cold showers, cold coffee and staying home vs. willingly using fossil fuels day-in and day-out.

Dilemma #2: As a political leader, Pelosi’s preferred state of “not fossil fuels” belies the current U.S. reality. The LLNL chart shows that, in 2009, 83 per cent of U.S. energy supply originating from fossil fuels, with petroleum counting for 37 per cent of those needs. Clearly she and her constituents will be reliant on a range of fossil fuels, including oil imports, for many years into the future.

Looking a little deeper at its reliance on petroleum, in 2009 the U.S. consumed an average of 19.5 million barrels of oil each day (bopd), but produced only 8.4 million bopd domestically and importing the remaining 11.1 million bopd.

Solving Dilemma #2 means moving forward from this “snapshot in time.” The LLNL chart highlights areas where significant change is required to move towards “not fossil fuels” – or at least not so much fossil fuels:

How to reduce the overall energy (or at least limit growth) while contending with a growing population and enabling a growing GDP per capita? Smaller motor vehicles, smaller and better insulated homes, a shift towards urban densification would be good places to start.

How to reduce the amount of energy “Rejected” (upper right hand box in chart) as waste heat, etc. so that less raw energy is required to deliver the desired outcomes of industry, transportation and residential/commercial customers. New electric generation plants (especially new natural gas or retrofitted coal plants), greater waste heat recovery, hybrid vehicles would all take us in the right direction.

How to shift the “energy mix” going forward — shifting from fossil fuels and non-renewables towards renewables and non-carbon emitting technologies – while maintaining the reliability and affordability that are taken as “givens” by U.S. citizens (and voters).

Developing plans to reshape energy economy

So, rather than focusing on what she’s “not keen on”, the challenge for Pelosi is to help develop creative and challenging plans to reshape North America’s energy economy. She might begin by leading us to address the question asked by Sunil Paul in his Gigaton Throwdown report: “What would it take to …?”

Addressing that question will begin to get us all on a pathway (or, more likely a series of parallel pathways) that will reduce our call on raw energy, enable a robust economy, continue to meet reliability and affordability expectations and (what seems to be Pelosi’s real desire) reduce GHG and other emissions.

Bob served four years as an Assistant Deputy Minister with the Alberta Department of Energy with responsibility for Conventional Oil, Oil Sands, Land Tenure, Land Access and Energy & Aboriginal Relations. The not-for-profit Energy Futures Network’s goal is to enable a fact-based exploration of future energy options for Canada and the world.