Billionaire Texas oilman and corporate takeover artist T. Boone Pickens has been all over the news these last few months about his plan to spend $10 billion on a massive 4,000 megawatt wind farm in Texas. Last month Fast Company magazine ran a piece on the Pickens plan, where the Texas tycoon candidly stated that he was doing it "for the money" and that environmentally benefits were only secondary objectives. Fair enough. Most recently, Pickens launched an internet marketing campaign of his efforts, which includes a website and youtube campaign that highlights his plan for energy independence.
Here is the video presentation from the website:
And the full presentation of his plan from youtube:
On one hand, I think it is a great thing when someone who has the wealth of Mr. Pickens invests in a clean energy endeavor of this magnitude, but I think Mr. Pickens's commitment to natural gas vehicles (NGV) as the solution to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil is a major folly. Why would we spend billions to swap dependence on one fossil fuel source for another?
Here are just a few of problems with Mr. Pickens's plan:
- Under the Pickens plan for energy independence, the US would still be at the mercy of the supply of a fossil fuel since he wishes to switch our vehicles over to natural gas fuel. Peak production of natural gas is supposed to happen a decade or two after the global peak of oil, meaning we will end up scrambling once again to find an alternative to a fossil fuel.
- Natural Gas vehicles reduce emissions 20% compared to standard gasoline powered vehicles. This is good but why not shoot for something like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or electric cars that are fueled by clean energy sources like his wind farms?
- The lack of infrastructure for natural gas vehicles is a huge hurdle. If we are to invest the billions we need in new refueling stations why not just spend that money on hydrogen fueling infrastructure??
Katie Fehrenbacher posted a great primer on NGVs over at Earth2Tech titled The 10 Things you need to know about Natural Gas Vehicles.
As the title of this post says, I believe T. Boone Pickens is half right. On his website you will see his map showing the United States's capacity for wind energy - he is correct in asserting that we need major investments in wind energy before we even come close to our potential for wind energy production. One challenge that could hold up wind energy developments is the need to add new transmission lines to carry the new electricity generated by the wind turbines on an already aging and outdated power grid. I don't think that one is a showstopper, however, and I think that if the US were to invest billions into large scale wind projects in the central US, and large scale solar plants in the southwest, we will be able to generate 100% of our electricity needs through clean energy. (In case you were wondering, fuel cells can be used to generate electricity when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing).
Mr Pickens would have really been onto something if he instead insisted on powering electric vehicles with all of that new wind power. Electric vehicles are already here, and as Tesla has shown they are a legitimate replacement for gasoline powered vehicles. Something tells me, however, that T. Boones Pickens, a former wildcatter, has more to gain financially if we replaced our gasoline powered vehicles with NGV instead of electric vehicles. Just a hunch.