Thursday, May 19, 2011

Subsidies for Natrual Gas Transportation?

I have stated a few times that I am not a supporter of using tax dollars to help an industry that wouldn’t survive on its own.  I don’t think green technology should be subsidized, nor do I think the oil industry should be subsidized. Now there is a move afoot to subsidize a switch from diesel trucks to natural gas burning trucks.

I do think the idea of natural gas vehicles is a good one. Big rigs burn considerably more fuel derived from oil than cars do. Natural gas is plentiful in North America. It burns cleaner than oil products (although not as much as some originally thought). Plus, it could help reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

The subsidy costs are not staggering, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5B over five years.  But in budget crunch times, that is still a lot of money.

In my opinion there is a difference between the subsidies given to green technology and subsidizing the switch to natural gas. The actual technology for natural gas vehicles is already a proven commodity. Several large cities have used natural gas in their city buses and trash collection vehicles. With green technology, we are still many years away from this being an efficient means of generating and using energy. Solar and wind power are do not deliver the same bang for the buck that oil does, it is not even close. Additionally, the means in which to move the energy generated (power lines) needs a trillion dollar makeover for it to become even remotely feasible.

When you look at electric power vehicles (EVs), the technology is even further behind the power curve. So far, the best distance per charge any EV manufacturer can deliver is about 100 miles, and that is city type driving. Distances are reduced significantly when these vehicles are taken out on the highways or the case of the Chevy Volt the electric power isn’t even used. The issue holding back the EV is battery charge life. As it stands right now, there is nothing on the horizon that will significantly improve the how far a battery will take a vehicle. Imagine trying to stick a battery powered motor into a huge 18-wheeler. I think the truck might be able to make it out of the loading dock, but not much further.

Before all of you are starting to think I now want natural gas technology subsidized, this is not quite the case. However (of course there is a “however”), if there was a energy category that should seriously be considered for subsidies, this would be the one.


  1. you also have to think of all the diesel techs that would be out of work if big rigs went to natural gas. There would have to be more training so technicians could fix and repair natural gas vehicles, that is more money spent trying to get a job. My son just graduated in January from Diesel Technology and has been actively looking for a job since then. There is nothing out there so he moved to Oregon with his brother to try there and still in 2 months nothing. He was top in his class with a 91 average( school never gave more than a 93 to anyone). He has his tools and we have a 27500 student loan(he has half so we only have a 13k parent loan. Switching to natural gas would mean you have to find a tech that knows how to service the big rigs and then have him teach those that wish to learn. And cost wise it is not great for the independent truckers either. They need to get rid of the ethanol since 15% voids your warranty on your vehicle and it actually uses more power to make ethanol than it does gas. I really wouldn't want to switch to natural gas since it would cost so much to do. Just my opinion of course, i really like your blog.

  2. Adele, You make an outstanding point, but as in every transition in technology, there will be folks that it is hard on. When we switched from the horse to autos same issues. i don't asy this to make light of your son's situation. And he does have a leg up since he did so well with the diesel training, should be an easy switch to natural gas. Please tell him that I said good luck as he searches for a position.