Alternative Energy Economy - Part II

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) 21st Forum has drawn some high profile, powerful people.  Colorado Senator Ken Salazar did the opening keynote address on Wednesday morning.  His message of energy independence for the US, and our ability to get there quickly, was positive and compelling. Senator Salazar noted there are three driving forces behind the US's development of alternative energy: national security, environmental security and economic opportunities. This time around, alternative energy research and development, and commercialization will succeed, if only because we cannot afford to fail.


The cry for energy independence is not a recent phenomenon.  Senator Salazar pointed out that former president Richard Nixon made the first shout out for energy independence in 1973, after OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) announced an oil embargo against the United States. Nixon saw the writing on the wall of US dependence on foreign oil and our need to be free of its chains.  A similar call for energy independence was heard from the Carter administration in 1977. With each of these calls came a temporary reduction in oil usage in the US, but nothing on the level of permanent reductions.  OPEC's response to produce increasing amounts of oil at lower rates made it easy for Americans to continue the addiction and even expand dependence.  Why is this time any different?


This time is different due to the three driving factors Salazar indicated.  Our ability to supply our own energy is a matter of national security.  The US cannot have a long term strategy of stability if it hinges on resources provided outside of our borders.


Our ability to supply our own energy is a matter of environmental security.  The science behind global warming is irrefutable.  Every nation must move away from fossil fuel usage. As the leading user of fossil fuels, the US must take a prominent role on the world stage and dramatically cut our dependence quickly.


Our ability to supply our own energy is a matter of economic opportunities.  Within chaos and crisis comes opportunity. We know the global supplies are being depleted at a rapid rate. We know the demand for energy comes from all parts of life. We are aware of the negative impacts of continued use of fossil fuels. We know that energy can be provided by renewable and sustainable sources. The key to energy independence is to be able to create, capture and store energy from a wide variety of sources. The economic opportunities arise when a variety of solutions are developed that support different environments. Once commercialized, the solutions can be sold around the globe for the same national and environmental security reasons.  Alternative energy development is a win-win for everyone on the planet.


Information technology plays a fundamental role in the development and execution of an energy independent country.  IT is found in the labs, in private business, and in entrepreneurial facilities.  This is on the development side. Looking at many of the companies that have commercialized solar and wind technologies clearly shows the value of information technology.  Finally, an examination of Xcel’s Boulder Smart Grid City shows information technology being used in the distribution of alternative power across an entire community.


There is so much at stake driving the US to achieve energy independence. As the price of a barrel of oil declines, and prices at the gas pump also drop, we cannot be lulled into complacency and reduce the level of urgency in achieving independence.  This time around, everyone in the country must play an active role in getting off the petroleum importing rollercoaster. Through a combination of personal conservation and alternative energy usage we can get this country back on track.

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