The Solution and/or the Problem?

Pundita weaves together a number of recurrent themes I’ve sounded here, the shortcomings of infrastructure building for producing economic growth, the antique model used by our system of higher education, and the misconceptions about U. S. manufactuing, (along with several quotes from this blog) into a single post on the obstacles faced by the U. S.:

I think the above illustrations are enough to convey the crux of the problem. The USA has long been considered the most advanced among First World nations. But the advances spawned huge industries and a social system that in many important ways hasn’t advanced beyond the advances of more than 30 years ago. Just because of this — entrenched advancement, shall we term it, the USA is now finding it very hard to adjust to the present era.

The USA is such a vast country with such a large population and such an abundance of natural resources that I’m sure Americans will muddle through somehow. But I think we’d muddle faster and with less pain if we became more flexible as a society. How to do that quickly without bringing down havoc on our heads?

There’s one aspect of her post with which I’m a little more troubled: the Bloom Box. If you’re not aware of it the “Bloom Box” or Bloom Energy Service is a fel cell device for producing electricity using a variety of different fuels, e.g. natural gas, biological sources. The gadget now costs about three quarters of a million bucks (although smaller scale, less expensive versions have been promised in the future for home use) and something like 100 have been installed, mostly in California. I don’t think I’m as sanguine about it as Pundita is. I think my views on the Bloom Box can be summarized as “we’ll see”.

I’m not resistant to the technology; I’m just not sure that this particular device is a viable solution without federal and state subsidies. Once you’ve deducted the various subsidies the gadget is eligible for its cost per kWh appears to be about the same as natural gas gensets and other competitive technologies. Should we be subsidizing particular solutions at the expense of other solutions? Or should we just let the market decide?

Further, at the present state of the art massive adoption of distributed power generation will exacerbate the problems with our energy grid. As I’ve said before, I’d rather see the jack applied to updating the energy grid than to subsidizing specific companies and specific solutions, some of which might eventually pay off but most of which will almost inevitably fail.

I’m not sure there’s much advantage in being an early adopter of a losing technology.

1 comment… add one
  • Icepick

    But I think we’d muddle faster and with less pain if we became more flexible as a society. How to do that quickly without bringing down havoc on our heads?

    Define flexible. Twenty years ago gay marriage was unimaginable. Thirty years ago Central Florida was 80% white, 19% black, and the rest was other. Now you can go to sizable communities in town and not hear a word of English spoken. (Hell, I think English has been banned in most of Osceola County.)

    Thirty-five years ago home computers were science fiction to the vast majority of people. Cellphones were only for the rich. The world wide web wasn’t even proposed until 1990, IIRC. Forget the idea of blogging, flash mobs and other forms of social networking.

    She may have a point, but I’m too tired to read it. Has she not noticed all the flexibility out there, or is she just defining it differently, like Mish & Steve Keen with inflation?

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