NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Will Green Energy Make the United States Less Secure?

February 10, 2011

Environmentalists have long cited the environmental harms caused by fossil fuels as evidence of the need to move to green sources of energy such as wind and solar power.  Recently, some conservatives have joined their cause, citing national security concerns.

However, key components of renewable energy technologies are made from a small number of rare earth elements, and other rare minerals.  Despite the name, these elements are relatively abundant, but they are rarely found in economically exploitable concentrations.  The exception to this is the People's Republic of China, where the concentration of the minerals is so high that the country has a de facto monopoly on their trade, according to H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow and Wesley Dwyer, a policy intern, with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • The intensifying push to adopt renewable energy technologies that require rare earths will require tradeoffs, including swapping one form of dependence for another, much more restrictive one.
  • As America relies more on green technology, it will be increasingly dependent on China's good will.

For example, the Obama administration has touted solar panel manufacturing as a green-job growth sector.  However, China has a near monopoly on the element required to make solar panels, making it virtually impossible for American solar power companies to compete with Chinese-owned firms, says Burnett and Dwyer.

Wind power is also promoted as a way to decrease American energy dependence; however, the magnets used in turbines that generate wind energy require the rare earth element neodymium.

China is increasing domestic consumption of rare earth elements and rare minerals, and has already demonstrated a willingness to use its near monopoly of the market for these critical resources to force geopolitical concessions from other countries.  As a result, the push for green energy is likely to reduce U.S. economic and geopolitical security rather than enhance it.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett and Wesley Dwyer, "Will Green Energy Make the United States Less Secure?" National Center for Policy Analysis, February 10, 2011.

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