As you've probably seen on TV, the Pickens Plan is getting alot of press, due in large part to T. Boone Pickens supporting and promoting it with his own money. Let me explore the Pickens plan for you.
The plan is fairly simple in scope, but much more complicated in application. The plan is to build massive amounts of new wind power, up to 20% or more of current consumption, then use that to stop using natural gas for generating power for the most part, then use the natural gas to power cars.
I am a natural cynic at heart, my tendency is to disbelieve things at the outset, especially things championed by old rich white guys who own oil. But I do see some light in the Pickens plan. If the first phase (the wind turbines) goes off well, we will all be in a better place environmentally, and for reasons of health. Anything that can displace burning of fuels to make energy is a success. However, when it comes to the natural gas aspect of the plan, I am not so optimistic. True, NG is at a great price now, but start feeding millions of cars with it and prices change. It will likely become as volitile as gas prices. Additionally, NG is still a burnable fuel, it is not without its own pollution, and NG is a limited resource just like all the rest of the fossil fuels. It does bring us closer to renewability because biogas can be substituted in, but I don't think it's the real big idea for the future.
For instance, I believe the Tesla Motors guys said that if you burn natural gas in a power plant (which is much more efficient than a car) and use the resulting electricity to power an electric car, you can go something like twice as far. Now I'm not sure if that's accurate, but it's something to think about. I do think CNG has a place in future energy infrastructure, but not a big one. I think CNG hybrids are a possibility for longer trips that BEV's can't do, but I don't think it's a fuel for everyone. Additionally, Amory Lovins points out that the problem today is not a fuel issue, it's a car design issue. Our cars are massively inefficent, not including the engine. His Hypercar is made of carbon composites, is aerodynamically efficient, and is super light and insulated. All this without a fundamental change in propulsion, though he believes one is needed. Toyota has just contracted a company to make carbon fiber parts for them, so we'll see where that goes. One of thier recent concepts is called the 1/X, and with the same interior space as a Prius, weighs 1/3, uses 1/2 the fuel or better, with an engine 1/4 the size.
I think CNG would be useful for tractor trailer rigs. With a hybrid setup and a CNG generator on board, I think stuff could happen there. A truck is not lacking of space, just look under the thing, but weight issues are the key, and trucks are vitally necessary to our society, so there needs to be a solution there.
Overall, I don't like solution that leaves our energy sources to "oil men." Sure the fuel is different, but it's in the hands of the same people. I still like electricity primarily because I can make it myself. And I don't need solar panels to do it, I can make all sorts of apparatus out of all sorts of pieces and parts, it's quite straightforward. And if I want to get all Lance Armstrong, I can make a power generator substantial enough to watch TV as long as I want as long as I keep pedaling. Of course the bigger the TV, the harder I'll have to pedal.
Overall, the Pickens plan is a good start, and I think it has a good goal, but we don't need any more stopgap measures, the solutions are here. We do need that much wind power though, that is for sure. We need a fundamental change in the way we do things, cars especially, ask Amory.
We need to have great cars, and we also need to drive them less. - Amory Lovins