Sparked from a discussion on the great energy discussion site, OurEnergyPolicy.org | Does Energy Independence = Energy Security?, I share my comment here. I set out to essentially trounce the idea of “energy independence”, but eventually find my way, as usual, into the big picture of energy. “Energy security” is inherently connected to society; it must account for both addressing the supply – how supply feeds demand, but there is the unavoidable question of what should demand actually be, and what is the best way to pursue such demand? Serious strategic discussion of energy has to account for what has led to our current expectations about energy consumption, and how those expectations and understandings may change in the future.
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Does energy independence = energy security?
I think one of the best ways to think about this topic is by thinking about an investment portfolio, and diversifying risk. In its most simplistic terms, it’s whether or not you have all your eggs in one basket – if you do, and something happens to that basket, then you certainly won’t be able to make any omelets.
More to the point, though – ‘energy security’ is essentially a matter of how many options you have to meet your energy needs. You are more insecure the less options you have, and more secure the more options you have, so it’s a direct relationships.
“Energy Independence” is essentially a campaign slogan or otherwise simplistic form of propaganda – in the case of the US, that is untenable, at least currently. (And no, it will not become tenable if Keystone XL is completed, and all federal lands are opened for hydraulic fracturing, and offshore drilling). Fossil fuels, combined, make up about 80% of the current US energy portfolio, in terms of sources. 37% Petrol, 25% Natural Gas, 21% Coal – as per 2010 Energy Information Administration data. The US cannot supply all of those resources itself, and since the 1970s has been declining steadily (Hubbert’s Peak) in domestic oil production, and while there has been a recent break of that trend, it will not bring about “energy independence”.
I was recently asked the question - and thought it deserves some unpacking. I think the underlying challenge to a having a stable and coherent grand energy strategy is the lack of coherence about what we want our future to look like, and what factors are actually influencing it. If we want a future reality, we need to be informed and have no illusions about what our current reality is – and understand the transition needed to get from ‘now’ to ‘desired future’. To this end, I again state that we need a ‘national energy dialogue’ to go along with a national energy policy. Whether it comes from grassroots or top down, the dialogue needs to take place so people understand what the choices are, and what the factors are guiding those choices – choices about where the energy we use comes from, it’s environmental and economic impact, as well as how it shapes the future of our country and world. …