According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, global energy demand will increase 56 percent between 2010 through 2040. Advances in new technologies hold the promise of plentiful energy requiring little or no fuel; but significant research funding is required.
Policymakers will have to address these energy challenges– but none of them are a question of yes or no, either/or, do or do not. Instead, how the United States meets those challenges will require choices – strategic decisions about infrastructure investment, government policy, research funding, and even foreign policy.
The United States faces a series of choices that will determine how its economy is powered to meet the needs of the 21st century. How America chooses to replace and expand its energy supply will affect America’s national security, the well-being of the U.S. economy, and the health of the world’s environment.
Total energy use: 35 percent
Oil is easy and cheap to ship around the world, which means the security of its distribution network is just as important as the security of its supply. Because the U.S. imports nearly half of the oil it consumes, it is extremely vulnerable to supply disruptions in unstable regions around the world.
Total energy use: 18 percent
Coal is the largest domestically-produced source of energy. With an estimated 249 years’ worth of reserves, the U.S. is home to the largest recoverable reserves of coal in the world.
Total energy use: 27 percent
In the last decade, new technology, particularly the commercialization of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), has revolutionized natural gas production in the U.S. In just ten years, from 2000 to 2010, U.S. exports of natural gas have increased by over 350%. At current rates of use the United States has reserves for 110 years of natural gas.
Total energy use: 9 percent
Today, there are a total of 104 operational reactors around the country with a capacity of 101.0 gigawatts. Fuel—uranium—is either available from domestic mines, or from decommissioned nuclear weapons. The biggest drawback to nuclear power plants is their potential to be the target of a terrorist attack.
Recent advances in laser and magnetic technology have raised hopes that fusion could become a new source of electricity over the medium-term. Fuel to power fusion is available in seawater, and because so little of it is required for a reaction, fuel will be virtually unlimited.
Total energy use: 8.2 percent
Unlike dependence on a commodity like oil, importing solar panels – for example – constitute a one-time-only fixed cost. Once the cost is borne, there is very little variable cost for generating renewable energy. An economy that relies on renewable power for its energy needs will be able to manage its foreign policy independently of how it utilizes energy. Hydropower is currently the largest renewable source of energy in the United States, although there remains little room for growth for traditional hydropower plants. Wind represents the fastest growing source of American energy over the past decade.