solar panels us Workers install a panel washing robot on the 28-megawatt solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 16, 2016. In 2007, former President George W. Bush signed a law requiring the Pentagon get at least a quarter ...and more »
Workers install a panel washing robot on the 28-megawatt solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 16, 2016. In 2007, former President George W. Bush signed a law requiring the Pentagon get at least a quarter of its electricity from renewables by 2025. Ethan Miller / Getty
Achieving energy independence in the US is one environmental issue Democrats and Republicans can agree on.
It's easy to see why we should produce our own energy — relying on other countries for oil, natural gas, and coal (the biggest sources used today) can get complicated. It can lead to wars, or compromise our relationships with foreign powers.
President Trump is focusing not just on energy independence, but what he calls "energy dominance," vowing to "unleash" American natural gas and coal exports on the world.
The rise of fracking has unlocked vast natural gas reserves, allowing the US to import less natural gas in 2016 than in any year since the US Energy Information Administration started keeping track in 1973. Gas imports, most of which arrive in pipelines from Canada and Mexico, peaked in 2007 at 3.8 trillion cubic feet. But after fracking became popular, imports plummeted to 671 billion cubic feet last year.
Fossil fuels will eventually run out around the world, however. Experts estimate that the US only has enough natural gas reserves to last 93 more years, and enough coal to last about 283 years.
Putting politics aside, there is only one surefire way to be completely and indefinitely energy independent: adopt 100% renewable energy.
The US will always have its wind, sunlight, and water.
In 2016, energy produced from harnessing these renewables only made up 15% of the electricity generated in the United States. Hydropower was responsible for 6.5% of that, while wind made up 5.6%, and solar represented a scant 0.9%.
They're on the rise, though. The world added more energy from renewable sources than from fossil fuels in 2015 and 2016 — because they finally became cost effective. The plummeting price of clean energy has allowed the US to decrease its carbon emissions over the last three years while the country's GDP has increased.
Some countries are already pursuing this fossil fuel-free strategy. Costa Rica powered its small Central American nation on 98.1% renewables in 2016. It will take more time for a massive country like the US to achieve that, but Costa Rica has demonstrated that it can be done.
True energy independence can only be unlocked when America wholeheartedly embraces renewables. The good news is that we're on our way. The question now is, "When?"
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