Three years after ASP first released “America’s Energy Choices” in 2011, the U.S. remains stuck in a political stalemate over energy. Even so, the energy choices made years or even decades ago by politicians, businesses, and consumers have led to a revolution in how the U.S. produces energy. The reality of change in America’s energy system is far different from the stagnation of the political debate.
Renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind power, are seeing the largest proportional gains. On the side of fossil fuels, the U.S. is seeing an unprecedented boom, as the impacts of the technologies and expertise around hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have expanded America’s accessible fossil fuel resources. We are also beginning to see a revolution in how Americans consume energy with a boom in “Green Buildings” and in fuel efficient vehicles.
Put together, the combination of rapid growth in renewable sources of energy, a boom in production of oil and gas, and increasingly greater efficiency is having effects that even the most optimistic did not foresee only a few years ago. Greenhouse gas emissions have dropped since their US peak in 2006 due to a combination of greater efficiency, fuel switching from coal to gas for electric power, and the recession. A globalized market for solar photovoltaic production has caused a drop in installed prices of solar panels to less than $1 per watt. In a time of recession and low job growth, oil and gas extraction has proved to be a valuable tool of economic growth.
Energy can be a valuable new tool for geopolitics, but we should not oversell the benefits. We still pay a price for gasoline that is set more by Iran and Saudi Arabia than by North Dakota or Texas. On the other hand, if we make the appropriate choices, the U.S. can use our newfound wealth of natural gas to stabilize world prices and even give a measure of energy security to our allies around the world.