Faith Versus Reason in Technological Progress


You know, a conservative sometimes wonders if the underlying reason people fall for patently false ideologies like progressivism or socialism (assuming there’s a difference) is that they have an unjustified faith that the way things have trended and are now will continue by some magic of the (in their view) godless universe.  Surely the order and relative social peace that we experience will simply continue of its own accord even if we remove the millennia-honed religious, philosophical, and cultural underpinnings of that order and relative social peace, right?

And surely technology will continue to advance in predictable ways — despite progressive regulation, redistribution, and protectionism — allowing us to invest in things that look like economic fantasies right now on the grounds that technology will make them plausible some day.  (Oddly, that same frame of mind never seems to allow us to be comfortable maintaining our freedom in the face of “climate change” on the grounds that technology will fix the problem without requiring global totalitarian rule by a green elite.)

This faith made its appearance this morning when local progressive Nick Inglis responded to a tweet by RI House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who’d noted that wind electricity is about four times as costly as natural gas.  Inglis promises that wind will “improve” just as gas has “had years to determine efficiencies and reduce costs.”  By way of emphasis, he attaches an image of an old advertisement for a 10MB computer system for the low, low price of $5,995.

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I am most definitely not one to bet against the improvement of technology or to underestimate my capacity to make bad predictions about the future, but it seems to me Inglis is making something like a category error in that analogy.  “Computers” aren’t really analogous to a particular means of producing energy, but to energy production overall.  The complete computer system in the advertisement has huge differences in technology versus what you’re probably using today, from the dot-matrix printer to the CRT monitor to the 5 1/4″ floppies.  They all serve the same purposes, ultimately, as our laser printers, LED monitors, and flash drives today, but they aren’t the same technology.

Collecting energy from a particular source, like the wind, seems to me more like placing ink on paper by having a little ball with protrusions strike a piece of paper than the concept of printing, generally.  In other words, how much space is there for wind to advance in a way that doesn’t advance all energy production, thereby maintaining the relative difference?

There may be plenty, and I’d encourage private investors who believe in the concept to put their money down for the greater return in the future.  But using government to force everybody in a state with a perennially sluggish economy to pay four times as much for energy (while complaining that the energy company wants a 53% increase) seems like destructive zealotry from believers.

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  • Guest

    Justin you sometimes totally amaze me as your title; “Faith Versus Reason
    in Technological Progress” caught my eyes. I am amused how you spun together all the political ideologies playing each one off the other and then launched into the clashing of ages and religions ending in comparison of global totalitarian rule by green elite. You seem to have a label for everyone and everything!

    How you failed to see the comparison Nick Inglis was trying to make with
    early $5,995 10MB computer system to current day 40 times larger computer system at far lower pricing that as systems mature and become more technically advanced the system costs come down in price but you got hung up on technology and energy deference.

    Electric Companies original business model at first was to generate
    baseline electricity from generators that produced constant voltage, current
    and frequency and distribute the power to its customers; a central site
    distribution business model with satellite stations. The old business model power ran one direction from center out called a legacy grid.

    Wind power can provide more electric energy per dollar when built on land only (22nd Century offshore windfarms are in development stages bringing power down to 10 cents/kWh) but it is not baseline electrical energy. Wind power is intermittent and is constantly fluctuating. Older wind turbines had mechanical transmissions and newer models have no transmissions so more reliable. Photovoltaic panels are now cheaper than wind power but also are not baseline electrical energy. Photovoltaic electric power is intermittent and is constantly fluctuating. Newer Photovoltaic cells are being built into building roofing shingles.

    Advancements in interfacing windfarms and Photovoltaic farms with batteries to act as smoothing devices has increased the reliability of both wind and Photovoltaics to act more like baseline power to a certain extent but requiring more electric filtering and isolation transformers placed on the grid.

    New electric company business model is distributed power resources on the electric grid where the electric company does not create its own electric power but purchases it from many different resources and distributes it across the electric grid. Baseline electric power flows in both directions on the electric grid as needed. The grid is modernized into what is called a smart grid and may have micro-grids as substations at various intervolves. Many different power resources are connected into the newer electric company grids.

    The State of Hawaii is the only state in nation to mandate solar hot water heaters on all new single family housing as of 1 January 2011. Hawaii was the first state in nation to write and sign into law mandates that aligned the state with The Paris Agreement (French: Accord de Paris), Paris climate accord or Paris climate agreement, is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Hawaii is the first state to write into law The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative which mandates all electric power in the state will be produced 100% by clean alternate green renewable energy by year 2045. State will reduce imported oil 70% by year 2045 leaving 30% for transportation use thus saving $7 billion in financial funds flowing out of state.

    There are currently two clean alternate green renewable energy systems that produce reliable baseline electric energy and have proven the technology in proof of concept and have grown to the commercial megawatt stage of energy production. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) of which a 10 megawatt standalone power plant is in design and operational phase (expandable to 100 megawatt) in Hawaii (power source is ocean water temperature differential). A second clean alternate green renewable energy system that produces reliable baseline electric energy
    is under test in Australia configured as 1 megawatt system. This system is
    based on underwater wave kinetic energy, photovoltaic, batteries and

    Finally, National Grid does not produce its own electric power. National Grid is a power company distributer of electric power purchased somewhere else and sold for a markup. National Grid has nothing to do with Deepwater Wind except that they are the electric company of record for the state of RI and under the state of RI law they must purchase power from any clean alternate energy company selling power in the state regardless if it is in the ratepayers best interest or not. You can thank your RI General Assembly and Governor for changing the laws restricting the RIPUC from doing their job.

    This is the time when electric companies try to pre-purchase electric on the coming winter electric spot market trading floor at lower rates so they don’t have to pay higher rates later down the road in middle of winter. Deepwater Wind is a fixed cost with a rate already established so it is not a problem. Vermont Yankee, Brayton Point, and Salem Harbor power plants have been shut down and are being decommissioned. Without them power is costing more and that is where the 53% standard service rate hike is coming from. National Grid by law cannot profit from standard service rate and need to break even. This is the first rate hike for National Grid since 2015 and there will be a lot more coming so get use to turning over your paycheck for increased taxes (state and municipal), electric power and
    other utilities not to mention businesses increasing pricing for goods and