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September 5, 2007 at 10:34 AM

Energy’s Great Game

By creating an on-line simulation along the lines of SimCity, Chevron is trying to prove that figuring out how to provide civilization with enough energy is not an easy game.

Energyville, created by Chevron in conjunction with The Economist Intelligence Unit, lets you name your own power-hungry city and pick different options to feed it with energy. You can choose among biomass, hydro-power, natural gas, hydrogen, solar and others; every choice has some economic, environmental and security impact. The impact of your choices can change following events like terrorist attacks and technology breakthroughs.

No matter how green-minded you are, you won’t be able to power your cities with solely biomass or solar sources. If you forget to add an offshore petroleum platform, the game will kindly remind you that airplanes and cars need fossil fuels to run.

The game, posted at a website Chevron created to foster energy debate, is “an engaging way of looking at the real-world decisions that have to be made in meeting rising global energy needs,” said Chevron vice president Rhonda Zygocki in a statement. “Sponsoring Energyville supports our efforts to encourage a global debate of the critical energy issues. Energyville gives people an opportunity to test their energy literacy and learn for themselves the challenges in powering their own city.”

In Energyville, your final score depends on how well you balance your energy needs with the cost, security issues and environmental effects of your choices. In my third attempt at being Seattle’s energy czar, my score ranked 2,359th among 20,735 players — after heavily betting on wind power.

The site offers a tool to engage in some amateur sociology. It computes the average energy preferences of players by location, gender or profession. Wind and solar proved a major preference of the average U.S. player, according to the Chevron site. Players from Qatar – a major hub for gas-to-liquids projects – saw a future dominated by coal. Vatican City players gave petroleum the largest share of the pie. Budding policymakers in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil power, also bet heavily on wind, solar and biomass solutions.

Big Oil has been increasingly vocal in the alternative energy debate, as skyrocketing costs and environmental and security concerns have made fossil fuels the target of both environmentalists and politicians. Many expect Congress to enact legislature regulating carbon emissions in the near future, and the State Department is hosting an environmental summit in Washington D.C. in late September. Oil companies like Chevron want to make sure they have a seat at the table as new measures are discussed.

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