Vaclav Smil on the Pickens Plan for Wind Power and Natural Gas Vehicles

Michael Giberson

Perhaps the greatest appeal of the Pickens Plan is its cascading simplicity. First, Pickens wants to dot the Great Plains (“the Saudi Arabia of wind power”) with wind turbines to replace all the electricity currently produced by burning natural gas. Second, he wants to use the natural gas freed by wind-powered generation to run efficient and clean natural gas vehicles. Third, he believes that this substitution will create a massive, new domestic aerospace-like industry — with well-paying jobs in the production of giant turbines and auxiliary equipment — that will bring economic revival to the depopulating Great Plains. Finally, Pickens says his plan would reduce the huge outflow of wealth to oil-producing nations as the U.S. cuts its oil imports by more than one-third.

If this were an opera, shouts of “Bravissimo!” would be in order. But despite its many positives, the timely realization of the Pickens Plan faces a number of extraordinary challenges, to say the least.

The quoted material is Vaclav Smil on the Pickens Plan in Yale Environment 360. “Cascading simplicity”? I’m still trying to decide if, ultimately, that is a compliment or an insult.

Related, a story in the Washington Post about the failure of natural gas vehicles to take off despite federal government plans in the 1990s.

HT to Environmental Capital for both links.


2 thoughts on “Vaclav Smil on the Pickens Plan for Wind Power and Natural Gas Vehicles

  1. Vaclav Smil has a staggering wealth of technical historical knowledge about energy technologies, their evolution, and their adoption. Although he doesn’t say it so explicitly, I think his “cascading simplicity” remark and the rest of it, like where he refers to government activity to build the national highway system, indicates his well-founded skepticism about large, elaborate, top-down plans to transform our energy infrastructure through an “Apollo Project” perspective.

  2. “with well-paying jobs in the production of giant turbines and auxiliary equipment ”

    This is a cost of the plan, of course, not a benefit. We lose what those workers would have produced if they weren’t driving around teh Dakotas oiling windmills.

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