Eternally Jousting at Windmills

Exactly 30 years ago I started my first company – Levinson Energies.  The business had no location, it was run out of my apartment while I was in graduate school at UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia.  It had one long term asset – a tool box that had a small metal label proudly declaring Levinson Energies on it.

The name was a play on words in that i was willing to work hard but also it was because the business focus was on saving energy for home owners.  Our first “product” was installing timers on the electrical lines to water heaters so that they did continually keep the water warm at night.  We had 2 customers.

One was Bob Havlen, who has posted some comments on previous essays here.  I have not seen Bob in the 30 years that have past, but it is important to know that customer’s memories are very long.

Bob reminded me that I was very concerned about oil and the USA back in 1978!  And honestly, I was premature back then about my concerns.  As a country we did raise car mileage standards under Jimmy Carter’s leadership but that in turn created such a drop in demand that the USA experienced an oil glut in the 1980s to the extent that Ronald Reagen actually lowered the Carter CAFE standards to accomodate the automakers in Detroit.  Ouch.

And so here I am publishing articles and working in home energy efficiency again 30 years later and all concerned about oil prices reflected in nearly $5 per gallon gasoline.  And what happens?  We get into a recession (depression??) and the price bulk price of oil falls from $150 per barrel down to around $57.  And this causes gasoline prices to drop from near $5 to below $2 in some states.  Ouch again.

It seems to me that this will happen continually in the USA unless we get some political leadership.  We, as a country, have been such proflagarate waster of energy that, for a while, we will be able to make dramatic and trivial strides in increasing our efficiency.  We can shift somewhat from SUVs to Prius like cars.  We can put in more compact fluorescent light bulbs and such.  Each of thse will have an overall impact on our country.

If we are to drive towards a change that is deep and future proof, then we will need to find ways to do this more steadily, over longer periods of time.  And this can only be done with national policy changes and likely tax laws as well.  For example, if we made it so that every barrel of imported oil was made to cost us $100 even if it was sold by others to us for less then this would stabilize our perception of the value of oil so that we would begin the transformation.  It would create a steady pricing environment so that our industries can invest and invent and deploy the post-oil technologies like wind turbines, nuclear plants, solar plants and so forth.

Bob Havlen was right back then and now but his chiding me will not make us safe from the real reckoning that will come sometime.  The world has passed peak oil.  Some countries that had oil and used it badly (for example Indonesia) are now suffering from political turmoil from a populace that does not understand what happened.  Will we be the same in a few years or a couple of decades?

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories, StartUp Ideas