Most Americans entered the year of 1973 under the impression that oil would always be plentiful and cheap. The great post-World War II expansion of the American economy was fueled, in part, by the vast energy supplies that petroleum provided to industry. Then, after some price and supply fluctuations, OPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided to flex their power. They enacted an oil embargo that reduced the American oil supply so drastically that rationing measures were put into place. Motorists often had to wait in long lines during specified times to purchase gasoline at a much higher price.
Ever since this time, energy policy has been on the top of the agenda for the President of the United States and Congress. Legislators must walk a fine line. They must balance their constituents needs to heat their homes and commute to work with the responsibility to preserve the environment and stem the effects of Climate Change. The energy market has changed a lot in recent decades, and it will change further in the decades to come. While no one can know for sure what it will look like, here are some possibilities for where the American energy market may be heading.
According to the Energy Information Administration, Americans used approximately 15.2 million barrels of oil per day in 1983. That amount increased about one half of a percentage point each year until 1997, when the figure was 18.6 million barrels of oil per day. Thanks to a number of factors, Americans have been able to reduce that number. While we imported 10 million barrels per day, a number that has been steady for several years, our total oil consumption figure averaged 15 million barrels per day, down from twenty-five years ago.
While American oil is less plentiful than we would like, American coal reserves provide us with a respectable amount of energy security. The United States imported 34 million short tons of coal in 2008, which seems like a lot until you know that we extracted 1172 million short tons from American mines in that same year. Coal is also the fuel that provides must of the electricity in the American power grid. As a result of these figures, coal will likely play a big role in American energy policy for some time to come.
Energy independence is an important facet of any policy. The OPEC nations were able to have such an effect on the American economy in the past quarter century because of our reliance on their oil. There are a few ways that we can close the gap. First, of course, Americans can reduce the amount of oil and gasoline they use by putting cars on the road that are more energy efficient, likely through the use of hybrid and electric technology. Foreign oil is also used to fuel some of the electric power plants within our borders, and switching to nuclear technology could ease the strain. Another obvious way to decrease the deficit is to increase American oil production, possibly by maximizing output from reservoirs located in Alaska, California and the Gulf Coast.
Early in its first term, the Obama Administration outlined a possible path for the direction of the American energy supply. President Obama backed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that, one hopes, will both stimulate the economy and establish clean energy as a priority. 11 billion dollars of this money was set apart for improvements to the energy grid. There are currently inefficiencies that interrupt the electricity supply to industrial and residential customers and increase costs. With these problems ironed out, the future American power infrastructure will be more reliable.
The American energy of the future will likely include much more nuclear power. While there are several such plants operating safely across the nation, there haven’t been any new nuclear plants in many years. Taking full advantage of the possibilities of nuclear power will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise result from coal-fired plants and provide well-paying jobs for the engineers who design and build the new facilities.
In the near future, office buildings will be “greener. With lights lit partially by solar power and air conditioning kept inside the walls with innovative insulation, many of us will live and work in buildings that represent less of a strain on the American power supply.
Increased use of solar power is almost certainly in the cards, and wind power already provides a healthy chunk of electricity in states such as Texas. In some places, particularly those on the West Coast, geothermal energy is also a possibility. All of that infrastructure needs to be designed and built by Americans. Even better, these jobs would be quite difficult to outsource.
The American energy supply is going to look somewhat different in the coming years. Thankfully, these changes will happen incrementally. As a nation, we always seem to rise to the occasion, and adapting to the country’s energy needs will be no different.
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