Do you know what an experience curve is? Does your representative in Congress know what it is?
It's a well-established and oft-proven truth of manufacturing costs that as you make more of something over time, costs come down. This is separate from manufacturing scale effects, which can also drive costs down, but, simply put: the more we make of something over time, the more we figure out how to drive the costs out. 'Incremental innovations' add up to significant cost savings over time.
BCG summarized this way back in the mid-1960s this way: Costs fall about 20 percent to 30 percent every time cumulative installations double.
This is not rocket science. It's well understood, and frankly pretty basic.
So why can't many politicians and their lamprey (like the RAND Corporation) understand this very basic business concept?
We've seen attacks on all kinds of renewable energy technology policies because the renewable energy costs are high. That is, high today. Early in their experience curves. Well...duh.
Most recently, some politicians have even gone so far as to deny the military the ability to acquire relatively small amounts of advanced biofuels. The argument made, of course, is that these biofuels cost too much.
Energy is a crucial strategic issue for our military. Much of our military strategy is dictated by energy supply, at both a national and a tactical level. Soldiers regularly carry 20-60 pounds worth of batteries into battle. From 2003-2010, more than 3,000 soldiers were wounded or killed while guarding energy supplies. The U.S. military spends more than $19B per year on energy, and that's expected to rise over time. Every three days, the U.S. military consumes 1 million barrels of petroleum (PDF).
The military has undoubtedly done lots of studies to understand just how vulnerable they are to disruptions from foreign-supplied energy, especially liquid fuel, before making this request. And they've decided it's a strategic priority, as a critical part of their mission, to help buy down the cost of advanced biofuels (as well as advanced energy storage and distributed electricity generation techs) by making some early purchases, to jump start those experience curves. They understand they're under budgetary constraints. They're not making a political request. They're making a strategic request. They're planning ahead, beyond the current budget crisis, to the next military crisis.
Politicians supposedly pride themselves on their business savvy. And, supposedly, they support our troops.
Why don't these politicians understand experience curves? And why don't these politicians understand the life-and-death nature of energy supplies for our men and women in uniform?
I would suggest to you, Gentle Reader, that these politicians understand both concepts quite well. And that this is a sign of how toothless the alternative energy lobby is in D.C. Because what's really driving this is that the partisan hacks in DC drove a bad political deal last year where there are significant cuts in defense spending to be triggered if they can't make a budget together. And they're realizing they can't make a budget together. Because they're partisan hacks and it's an election year. So therefore when they see an undefended target like advanced biofuels spending, especially since these same partisan hacks have decided to politicize energy technology as an election issue, so therefore it's perfectly fine to ignore well-established concepts like experience curves. And, I guess, to ignore the welfare of our troops.
This simply should not be a partisan political issue. It's not even a 'green' issue. It's a strategic military issue. Shame on them.
This should piss you off. They're either being ignorant or disingenuous. And it's far from the only case of this. It's just the most egregious example. Perhaps the most unpatriotic example.
Contact your senators and congressional representatives. Tell them to stop it. Both parties are at fault one way or another. If they don't put a stop to it, do what you can to make them feel the implications of their ignorance or disingenuousness come November.
P.S.: I'm not a Democrat. And I'm not even a big biofuels supporter. I'm just sick and tired of the cleantech sector being politicians' undeserving punching bag, and suffering collateral damage due to their incompetence at governing. Make your voice heard. You're more influential than you might think. But only if you speak up and participate.