Last Monday, the Wall Street Journal had a special section on Energy with the lead essay, “How to Change the Global Energy Conversation.” It contrasted old with new, the old being radical energy transformation (e.g. “impose strict controls on carbon-dioxide emissions”) and the new being incrementalism (e.g. “focus on modest emissions reductions such as replacing old diesel generators”). Perhaps the era of Big Government in energy is going on pause.
Climate alarmism, in particular, has failed as a voter issue, and we are left with the stubborn energy reality that politically correct wind and solar energy is expensive, unreliable, and quantity-constrained. This is the same verdict as rendered by William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 classic, The Coal Question. Renewable energy is just not ready for prime time—and not because human ingenuity somehow failed.
The articles in the Journal’s ten-page section suggest where the new policy debate is headed. There are the obligatory pieces on wind and solar (the special Journal energy sections used to be practically nothing but), and energy efficiency is covered for sure. But there are features on Brazil’s push for offshore drilling and Alberta’s oil-sands boom (“A Place Where Outsiders are Welcome”). This is where the real action is.
The future belongs to the efficient, and that means oil, gas, and coal. The real technology revolution is occurring day-to-day in the carbon-energy (read energy-dense) family, not outside of it.
Stay tuned: government-dependent energies are in for a hard ride, and consumer-driven energies are poised for growth. Why? Because consumers-qua-voters want it—and policy makers want to be elected and stay elected.