U.S. Faces Global Competition for Energy.

Author:Farrell, Lawrence P., Jr.

For most Americans, the most visible sign that the nation could be headed for an energy crisis is the price of gasoline.

But the challenges are much broader, and will require the United States to begin now to take the necessary steps to avert a future when energy will be less available and tar more expensive.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, energy demand worldwide will increase dramatically by 2030. Today, 85 percent of U.S. consumption is supplied by petroleum (40 percent), natural gas (23 percent) and coal (22 percent). By 2030, these three energy sources will account for 87 percent of U.S. consumption. But the absolute demand for all three will rise substantially--with coal leading the pack at 53 percent.

All this happens while domestic oil production falls 16 percent and imports grow by 34 percent. Refinery capacity only sees minor increases while refinery utilization grows from 93 percent to 95 percent. These are troubling indicators that point to rising prices for refined gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel.

Electricity demand also will rise, by about 51 percent. The U.S. demand, it should be noted, assumes a 39 percent efficiency improvement by 2030.

This scenario gets even more complicated by predictions that by 2030, world energy use will grow even faster than U.S. consumption.

The implications of all this are rather ominous. The rampant demand for energy will create fierce competition for scarce resources.

The United States must prepare for this reality. Unfortunately, the nation is not making enough progress in developing new energy sources and shifting demand to more secure and renewable sources. Pressure on the electrical grid only will intensify.

The upshot is that we need to do more, and do it faster, to address the energy needs of the future.

In addition to fuel-efficient vehicles, there are other technologies that the nation must explore. One is fusion, which is still many years out. The Naval Research Laboratory--in partnership with the Department of Energy, academia and industry--is planning to develop by 2028 a fusion energy prototype using lasers to fuse deuterium and tritium. An interim target is to have a fusion test facility up and running by 2018. A byproduct of this process would be hydrogen--a source for other energy applications such as fuel cells.

Fuel cells have seen great progress, almost unnoticed....

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