Wall Street Journal Experts: Don’t Let Politicians Make Energy Policy
Don’t Let Politicians Make Energy Policy
9:04 am ET
May 21, 2014
TODD MYERS: What technologies are likely to have the biggest effect on reducing energy consumption?
The way we generally make predictions about energy’s future is like the drunk who lost his keys coming out of the bar. When a passerby asked if he could help, the drunk thanked him and pointed to an area under a lamppost. The passerby asked, “Did you lose them here?” The drunk responded, “No, but the light is better over here.” Our predictions are limited by what we can see, but each of us sees only a little bit.
This leads to a long history of failed predictions. A few years ago, there was a push to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs despite their drawbacks. Only a few years later, however, cost-effective LED light bulbs came along, saving much more energy and providing far better light.
In the late 1960s, Congress spent nearly a billion dollars funding development of a supersonic, passenger aircraft. Supporters said it was clear that supersonic flight was the wave of the future and if we didn’t invest, the Soviet Union and Europe would surpass us. Ultimately, none of that was true and we wasted huge amounts of money.
Misplaced faith in our ability to predict can have huge consequences.
Energy consumption is widely distributed and improvements will come in small increments. It is unlikely there will be a single or even a few key technologies.
That’s why politicians are ill suited to make energy policy. Political solutions require accurate predictions and solutions that have large impact. Thousands of innovators, however, can try a wide range of approaches to see what works and can profit from solutions that are relatively small.
The key question is “who is more likely to find” new, energy-efficient technologies, politicians or innovators. Given the difficulty of prediction and the distributed nature of energy use and production, the clear answer is innovators.