America Needs a Comprehensive Energy Strategy

America Needs a Comprehensive Energy Strategy
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America’s energy production is surging. We’re now the world’s top oil producer, and fracking has unlocked vast amounts of inexpensive domestic energy, loosening the world’s grip on our economy. Indeed, America is on the cusp of becoming an energy exporter. 

However, unlike several major world powers, America doesn’t have a defined energy strategy to set priorities and guide foreign and domestic policy decisions. But we certainly need one that considers our newfound global leverage as well as world energy trends, such as the sizable push toward renewable energy.  

To begin, a comprehensive plan would need to address grid security. The American way of life is powered by our electrical grid, and an insecure grid jeopardizes that. Indeed, it has come under several cyberattacks in recent years. And some adversaries are capable of shutting down the entire grid, which would deal a devastating blow to our nation’s economy and security. Accidental blackouts can cause loss of food, medical equipment, digital and economic activity, and information sharing. Being built in a pre-internet era has left too many backdoors open for hackers. Closing these digital gaps and completing the upgrades is necessary to strengthen America’s 21st century backbone.

A comprehensive energy strategy should also support a variety of fuel sources. The 1973 Arab oil embargo highlighted the problems of our excessive energy dependence, with rapidly rising electricity and gasoline prices. As a result, competition was introduced in electricity generation to broaden fuel sources, add flexibility and lower prices. The embargo also spurred federal assistance for fracking technology, like seismic imaging and horizontal drilling, helping to reduce electricity prices and place America in an energy-dominant position. We should continue to build on these efforts with an energy strategy that encourages competition, invests in research and development for promising technologies and incorporates various energy sources.

Similarly, an energy strategy should work toward a sufficient domestic supply of materials needed for renewable energy technologies. As public support swells for and the world increasingly shifts to renewable energy, America is not well-positioned. Indeed, the materials to build wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries are controlled by a small number of countries, most notably China. America imports 100% of over 20 key minerals needed to construct renewable technologies and is almost as reliant for critical rare earth minerals. China is decades ahead of the world in this regard, underscoring our need for direction. 

After all, these countries will be able to exercise significant leverage over such needed materials. It’s not hard to imagine political disputes creating bottlenecks, shortages, and price surges in a new form of embargo. And the more the world turns toward renewable energy, the more intense the race to these resources will become. Ensuring supply sufficiency during global renewable energy growth, then, is essential.

America’s primary rivals are among the world’s top energy importers and exporters, and disputes over energy supplies have ignited wars across the globe. So becoming an energy exporter provides America with significant global leverage. Having the input that fuels the modern way of life can be useful far beyond simply selling energy. How should we use our newfound position? America could curb Russia’s influence over Europe with its substantial energy supplies, reconsider prior support for energy-rich autocracies like Saudi Arabia, and place a new bargaining chip on the table for trade and political relations with China. Of course, America is on its way to having that influence as far as fossil fuels go, but is on the other end of Chinese influence regarding renewables.  

That’s why a cohesive strategy that guides our energy policy decisions is vital. A strategy that works to strengthen grid security, develop and incorporate various energy sources, and ensure domestic supply of materials for renewables is a step in the right direction. America is now a world energy leader. It’s time to act like one.

Jakob Puckett is an energy policy analyst and a Young Voices contributor.

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