No Such Thing as "Transition" Fuels

By: Energy Justice Network  09-12-2011
Keywords: Natural Gas, Liquefied Natural Gas, Cellulosic Ethanol

Why we don't believe in "transition" fuels / technologies:

, , , , and other false solutions have been promoted as transition fuels or technologies. It is our assertion that there is no such thing.

A transition is something that gets us from A to C by going through B. When economic resources (public or private) are invested in infrastructure for natural gas, biomass incineration, biofuels or the like, this doesn't bring us closer to the goal of meeting our energy needs with conservation, efficiency, wind, solar and ocean power. It actually makes it harder to get to our goal. This is because:

  1. The economic resources can be better spent by investing directly in conservation, efficiency, wind and solar. There is no need to wait for these. Ocean power and some special wind and solar applications aren't ready to commercialized on a mass scale yet, but they're close and deserve investment dollars to bring them to market as soon as possible.
  2. They are an investment dead-end. Building liquefied natural gas import terminals, cellulosic ethanol production plants or other capital-intensive false solutions do not help get us to our goal. These projects take money that could be spent on real solutions and waste them on projects that need to be paid off over 10 to 30 years. No project owner is going to run such a plant for 5-10 years, tear it down, then build a concentrated solar power facility in its place.
  3. They create a new constituency of investors opposed to the move to clean energy. Those who invest in "transition" projects will have an economic incentive to keep their plants running for decades, seeking their own subsidies and generally preventing the transition from "B to C."

Economic resources shouldn't be spent on investments in technologies that aren't the best we can do. Natural gas, biofuels and the like aren't genuine transition strategies. Building an ethanol or biodiesel plant doesn't get us closer to wind and solar, to better mass transit, to electric vehicles.. it just uses resources that could be used TODAY to go directly to these solutions.

A good example of a genuine transition strategy is the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to hybrid cars to plug-in hybrids to full electric vehicles. We can (and should) go directly to full electric vehicles where possible (California already did this in recent years, until the auto companies destroyed the program), but hybrid technology has helped make the transition to more efficient vehicles. Plug-in hybrids will be a decent solution for those who need to go beyond the commuting range of full electric vehicles.

These vehicle technologies flow into each other, and can therefore be considered transitional in nature. The "transition" arguments applied to natural gas and biofuels are NOT transition, however. If the technology goal is something available today (if we invest in it), there's no need for investment in "transition" technologies that don't directly build that goal.

As we build the new energy economy, it's better to continue using the existing dirty infrastructure to build the new clean one than to try building NEW expensive infrastructure that we'll be trying to get away from in the coming years. Having that new infrastructure requires that there will be more entities with economic imperatives that will want to keep their plants operating as long as possible, making it even harder to shift reliance once more -- onto the clean technologies we're ultimately aiming for.

Keywords: Cellulosic Ethanol, Liquefied Natural Gas, Natural Gas

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