Improvements in wind and solar technologies? Read all about it in the New York Times and on the websites of environmental Left.

Improvements in conventional energy technology? Read about it in industry trade press. But rest assured: the conventional energies that we use all the time are getting better and better.

More from less has driven the fossil-fuel industry since inception. “Civilization … is the economy of power, and our power is coal,” William Stanley Jevons wrote in 1865. “It is the very economy of the use of coal that makes our industry what it is, and the more we render it efficient and economical, the more will our industry thrive, and our works of civilization grow.”[1]

“Today the conservation movement is led by sober business men and is based on the cold calculations of the engineers,” observed Erich Zimmermann in 1933. “Conservation, no longer viewed as a political issue, has become a business proposition.”[2]

Energy historian Jesse Ausubel at century-end noted how “the wheels of history” have long been “rolling in the direction of prudent, clean use of resources.” He explained:

Three-hundred years have increased the efficiency of [electric] generators from one percent to about 50 percent of their apparent limit, the latter achieved by today’s best gas turbines, made by General Electric…. The United States has averaged about one percent less energy to produce a good or service each year since about 1800…. A grand substitution of leading energy sources has taken place over the past century and a half … from wood and hay, to coal, to oil, and now to natural gas [with] … each new leading fuel is superior from an environmental point of view.[3]

And the latest: “Gas turbine makers GE, Siemens, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in … May [2011] separately profiled unprecedented results from development or testing of three innovative combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) technologies,” reported POWER magazine.[4] GE’s FlexEfficiency 50 Combined Cycle Power Plant—a “first-of-its-kind” power plant engineered to deliver an “unprecedented combination of flexibility and efficiency”—will offer a fuel efficiency (conversion of natural gas into electricity) of 61% or more, while achieving full power from start-up in less than 30 minutes. The 510 megawatt prototype plant is expected to enter commercial operation in 2015.[5]

The oil, gas, and coal industries are becoming more sustainable, not less, from the mine to points of consumption. Such weakens the case for continuing to subsidize government-dependent technologies in the name of energy efficiency and progress. Consumers, not Big Brother, can and should pick energy winners in a technologically fluid world.

[1] Jevons, W. S. The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation and the Probable Exhaustion of our Coal Mines. London: Macmillan, 1865; 2nd ed., 1866; 3rd ed., edited by A. W. Flux, 1906. Reprint, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1965, p. 105.

[2] Zimmermann, Erich. World Resources and Industries: A Functional Appraisal of the Availability of Agricultural and Industrial Resources. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1933, p. 784.


[3] Ausubel, Jesse. “The Environment for Future Business: Efficiency Will Win” (1998). Available at


[4] Patel, Sonal. “Pushing the 60% Efficiency Gas Turbine Barrier,” POWER, July 2011, p. 8. Available at


[5] Ibid.

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