Thursday, September 22, 2011

Technocrats and Technology II

In my previous post I outlined some of the problems facing the energy sector in terms of determining the best course of action in the wake of the Fukushima reactor disaster. One of the solutions was to create a group of experts to determine the best mixtures of technologies and sources of energy. However, there are clearly flaws with this methodology. First, there's the problem of trust in these experts. Second, there's obviously a lack of input from the general public. Third, there's problems with selecting technologies themselves.

As I mentioned yesterday, experts can claim many different things and using the right language can make something that's incredible sound credible. When these experts put out information or opinions how can we trust it? Can we be sure they aren't on the pay roll of big oil or big coal? If these experts are university professors how can we be sure they aren't part of some global warming conspiracy? I think that it's obvious there will be influences from oil and coal. These are to be expected and the goal should be to actually welcome them into the discussion. We should attempt to include them, however we need to give them the same weight of opinion with their obvious bias as any other expert on the panel. The difference is that we want it to be known that they are going to be rooting for oil/coal. Why? because we can more easily critically analyze their economic data knowing for sure where it comes from. This goes the same for a scientist that is heavily pushing solar or wind energy. We should know that they support it so we can have an honest discussion.

Public participation is a huge problem as well. Without proper support from local groups, agencies and governments a promising energy program and be killed. "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) is always a hugely successful counter attack to many of green energy programs. People don't want to have giant windmills over looking the beautiful landscape or oceanscape they cherish. Understanding these concerns and getting input into the the process from the public can lead to greater social acceptance of a plan. Also, making it clear who the information is coming from also will improve the tone of conversations. Without the clarity of information sources public opinion can quickly turn from a project.

Finally, what technologies should we use? Public opinion and vested interest in legacy technologies is very difficult to overcome. Especially when a technology like solar energy is more expensive than coal power, and has less consistent energy profiles. Of the solar technologies how do we select which technology is the best? How do we pick the right nuclear power plants? There are many different technologies out there competing. There is not a clear which technology a government plan should invest in. We are likely to pick a loser technology. However, we still need to choose something. I have mentioned it previously some ways to select technology. I'll discuss more of that in my next post.

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