Energy We Can Use
Energy shapes the modern world. And today, our primary energy sources remain traditional carbon-based energy, oil, natural gas, and coal. In the United States, these three energy sources, oil, natural gas, and coal, represent about 80% of our current energy source. A figure that, despite the political rhetoric you may hear, has remained remarkably steady over the last few decades.
And what makes these energy sources unique is that they are fungible, readily available, and easily transportable. First, they are fungible; one coal is easily substituted for another, and the same is valid for oil. We can replace one kind of coal or oil with another.
Yes, we may prefer the relatively clean-burning anthracite coal of the Appalachian to some of the soft coals found worldwide, but soft coal can substitute for anthracite coal. Or we may prefer the low sulfur, “sweet” oil of Saudi Arabia or West Texas, but we can replace those with some of the dense, high sulfur oils found elsewhere.
Many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Canada, the world’s largest oil exporters, readily export millions of barrels of oil per day. They make traditional carbon-based fuels readily available. Fifteen countries exported more than $17 billion of oil each last year.
Finally, traditional carbon-based fuels are easily transportable. Massive oil tankers or pipelines have proven capable of supplying any country with the energy it needs. Energy-poor countries, such as the tiny island country of Japan, can purchase all of their energy from overseas suppliers and operate their advanced economies. The three most significant oil-importing countries in 2021 were the United States, India, and China. China incidentally imported an incredible $228 billion worth of oil in 2021.
Fossil fuels are readily available, easily transportable, and can be substituted (fungible). Of course, there are other forms of energy, but these forms usually fail to compete on one or another of these criteria. It isn’t easy to transport Nuclear Energy; for instance, you can’t pick up and move a Nuclear power plant. Wind and solar energy are closely tied to current conditions. They may perform well when the wind blows, and the sun shines. Renewables may not perform at all in adverse conditions.
Reliability and day-in and day-out performance have made carbon-based energy the most dominant energy source for several generations.
Many alternate energy forms may become dominant as their technology advances. But today’s focus is on the current global state of energy.
Once you accept today’s reality that most of our energy derives from fossil fuels, you can review current global energy policies. Although the “marketing message” may say one thing, the reality will likely differ.
A case in point is Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the sixth-largest energy consumer in the world. Beginning with Chancellor Angela Merkel and now with Olaf Schultz, Germany has committed to transitioning its energy source from traditional fossil fuels to renewables, such as solar, hydro, and wind. In 2018 Germany closed all of its active coal mines, and in 2022 Germany was due to shut down all of its Nuclear Power Plants.
Although the “marketing message” was that Germany was becoming more environmentally responsible in its sources of energy, the reality was that their energy mix didn’t change significantly. Instead, they relied more on Russian oil and gas, supplied primarily via the Nord Stream Pipeline.
With the destruction of that Pipeline and the German decision to boycott all Russian petroleum products, Germany has had to retreat on its environmental promises. Coal has been brought back in a big way. With estimates as high as one-third of all German electricity, it is again being produced by coal-fired plants. Plants that were slated to be decommissioned are operating again during this crisis.
While President Biden is committed to reducing US oil and gas production, circumstances may also change that decision. Biden’s vision of a transition from fossil fuels led him to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and delay or cancel drilling permits on Federal Land, the principal source of oil exploration in America, as well as significant subsidies and incentives for renewable energy sources.
Overall, the Biden Administration has the most one-sided energy policy in the nation’s history, favoring one type of energy production, renewables, over all the rest.
The question then arises whether some circumstances will cause us to change this commitment to renewables. If the United States were to face the change in sources of energy that Germany is currently, would we change our policies?
A close look at the current US Energy Picture may provide an answer. The latest numbers supplied by the US Energy Information Agency are for 2022. The EIA reports that the country uses significantly more fossil-fuel-produced energy than we used at the beginning of the year. From Q1 2022 until Q4 2022, our Crude Oil consumption rose by 760 thousand barrels, natural gas by 4.8 billion cubic feet, and coal by 1 million short tons daily.
In contrast, the country’s use of Renewable Energy declined by 19 trillion BTUs. The reason for this reduced use of Renewables is still being determined, and the EIA does not currently provide an answer. I suspect that bad weather throughout the county may have contributed to the slow-down in Renewable production.
But it is not a good trend for an Administration that has put all its effort into promoting these kinds of energy sources. The mere fact that weather conditions can reduce Renewable Energy Production should cause us to look at this source more closely.
It is time for us to look again at traditional sources of energy that are fungible, readily available, and easy to transport.
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