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Houston, the Energy Capital of the World…Friend or Foe?

Today I flew into Houston for probably the 30th time. To many, Houston represents the fading past of an unsustainable energy monstrosity. To others it represents ingenuity, opportunity and a sort of pride at being the backbone in the development of modern civilization.

The reality is we all need energy. Our ancestors built water wheels to harness energy from rivers and collected wood to burn for their fires. Archimedes is credited with dreaming up one of the earliest pump designs. Today we can all see what happens when a nation is not "energy independent".

The United States has become relatively energy independent over the last 50 years driven by numerous factors including the oil embargo crisis of the 1970's. Germany is dealing with its decision to depend on Russia for a significant part of its energy supply while shutting down its nuclear power stations. Events like the Russian war against Ukraine have many in Germany and Europe reconsidering this decision (see Will Germany return to nuclear power? and As Putin Threatens Nuclear Disaster, Europe Learns to Embrace Nuclear Energy Again).

Everyone on this planet knows Elon Musk by now and how Tesla is a pioneer in the development of battery powered automobiles. The idea of course is to reduce carbon fuels and greenhouse gases. But we will need significantly more power stations and power transmission and energy storage infrastructure to accomplish this. I have seen estimates of this increase power of up to 50%. How will we do this? My original home state of California just had the embarrassing experience of announcing a ban on gas powered automobiles in 2035 right before it became clear they do not have enough power to recharge the small percentage of electric vehicles they already have today – see Californians asked to not charge electric cars — days after gas ban announcement.

And how will we make all the batteries to power these electric cars? It will take a lot of mining for raw materials such as lithium – of which we may not have enough. When I read the sad story of what is happening in the Asian nation of Myanmar (led by China – see 'The Sacrifice Zone': Myanmar bears cost of green energy) I am becoming a bit skeptical of all the push towards green energy. Has anyone really thought this out?

For a long time it has seemed obvious to me that the only way we can hope to decarbonize our energy generation is to dedicate ourselves to building more nuclear power stations. Many more. Like hundreds more in the United States alone and thousands if we talk about the whole world. But even that does not solve the raw material problems of manufacturing batteries.

Where does that leave Houston? Well, for me, it leaves Houston outside my hotel room window this evening. This week I will teach an all-day short course on waterhammer at the 38th International Pump Users Symposium. The conference itself will get going for real the day after. And AFT will have a booth here in the Exhibit area (Booth 1420). For now, Houston is still in the business of producing energy. Maybe Houston will fade away like railroads and steamships. Or maybe Houston will continue its energy leadership much longer than anyone thinks.

Oh, and by the way, this week marks AFT's 29th anniversary. I left my job in industry to found AFT on September 14th, 1993. It seems like a lifetime ago. But only just yesterday at times.

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Tuesday, 28 November 2023
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