Home   Archive

Not a crisis, but an opportunity
Jack Balshaw 5/14/01

At first glance this energy shortage, both natural gas and electricity, seems to have all the earmarks of a real crisis.  But, perhaps it’s really an opportunity.  If we look back to the last major energy crisis, the crude oil and gasoline shortage in the mid seventies, that was going to be the end of life as we knew it.  There were projections of the world running out of oil by the end of the century (by now), whole industries shutting down, our automobile dependent way of life at an end, and even our whole economy failing.  Surprise!! It didn’t happen.

 Probably the greatest benefit that crisis brought to this country was that it generated an interest in more efficient cars.  From average miles per gallon in the low teens then, our present autos are now averaging over 25MPG.   Just think of that by itself. 

 Not even thinking about the billions of barrels of oil that weren’t used, think of all the money we’ve saved in only having to purchase half the gasoline we would have had to purchase if the old gas guzzlers were still the norm.  Add to that the improvement in air quality this tremendous reduction in smog producing fumes has caused and the “crisis” can be seen as a benefit.

 Whenever a large part of the economy is dependent on one critical factor or resource, it takes a crisis to wrest control back from those who control that factor or resource.  It’s strange that in the mid seventies it was the oil (energy) companies who controlled our way of life by controlling crude oil and gasoline and now it is once again the energy companies who are controlling our day to day lives by controlling the natural gas and electric supplies. 

Fortunately, the money to be made from developing new energy sources will encourage greater research and experimentation into solar and wind power for energy generation.  The production of the new generation of hybrid autos getting 40 to 60 MPG will be accelerated by the high price of gasoline.  New insulation techniques will be developed to keep heat in in the winter and out in the summer.  The opportunities for the entrepreneur are staggering.  These are opportunities that wouldn’t have made economic sense except for the increased costs this energy crisis has caused.

 Imagine when someone realizes that air-conditioning is usually only needed in the summer when the sun is out and that’s just when solar cells work best. Imagine if the makers of solar cells could tool up to produce hundreds of thousands of square feet of solar cells because of the demand. Imagine the impact on the cost of solar cells when they can be produced by the millions.   We might not only gain energy independence but do more to clean up the environment than increasing auto mileage ever did.

 The present talk of accepting scheduled blackouts in lieu of paying ever higher prices for electricity might open the door to another opportunity. If one of the PG&E’s 14 zones were shut down for part each day, electrical power would be out in every zone only for part of a day every two weeks.  Effected businesses might close down that afternoon, decide to start early that day, or even go to four 10 hour days that week.  This could result in a reduction in commute traffic of anywhere from 7 to 10% on any given day.

 Might this not be considered a benefit instead of a crisis?  I know I’m being an optimist, but I’m tired of hearing the media only speculating on the negative side of this energy shortage.  Perhaps if we could see something positive about the situation, we would be more willing to endure this temporary discomfort and cost to achieve a longer term benefit.   

Home   Archive