February 21, 2006
High oil prices have everyone talking about energy independence again. But a look at the numbers reveals the vaunted goal is an illusion, according to Philip Deutch, a managing partner of NGP Energy Technology Partners.
- As a practical matter, energy independence is absurd; the amount of petroleum imported by the United States and other countries is so enormous that operating without it over the next several decades will be impossible for any advanced industrialized economy.
- Less foreign oil does not mean lower prices; even if the United States did not import one barrel of oil from the Middle East, the price U.S. citizens pay at the pump would still be a function of worldwide supply and demand.
- Limiting coal also poses a dilemma for those who favor energy independence; coal is one of the "dirtier" fuel sources, but for all its shortcomings, it is a relatively cheap and plentiful source of electricity.
- Nuclear power is making a comeback and is an important means of diversifying energy supply and reducing carbon emissions.
Energy conservation is not the solution, says Deutch. Although it's worthwhile to try to conserve any natural resource, we cannot conserve our way out of today's energy bind:
- People want and expect cheap energy, and few people would actually pay more for clean power.
- The vision of a hydrogen economy does not solve our energy dilemmas; natural gas or electricity produced through coal or nuclear power is still necessary to create hydrogen.
Energy independence may be hopeless in the next 20 years, but there is no doubt that emerging technologies will eventually beat the brunt of our energy burden, says Deutch.
Source: Philip J. Deutch, "Energy Independence," Foreign Policy, November/December 2005.
Browse more articles on Environment Issues