At an October 7 Congressional Staff Briefing, panelists discussed a popular question among energy analysts: can oil production meet rising global demand? Participants stressed that the price of oil will necessarily increase as the supply decreases, and that oil security has become an increasing problem for many countries, including the United States. But for many within the energy community, the real question is not about the future of oil, but about how renewable energy can play into our shared energy future.
Robert Hirsch, Senior Advisor at Management Information Services Inc., noted that “world oil production hit a plateau in mid-2004 and stayed in a narrow fluctuation range in spite of the ‘Great Recession.” As of 2010, that plateau will become a decline of 4 percent annually over the next 2–5 years, leading to ‘worldwide crash mitigation,’ or the implementation of large projects at the maximum possible rate to mitigate the peaking oil. However, sufficient research and development will take time, limiting the degree to which this will resolve the coming oil shortage.
U.S. Military use of Solar Panels
Simultaneously, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that world liquid fuel demand will surpass 100 million barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2035, up from 84 million barrels a day in 2009. So oil production will go down, oil demand will go up, and there’s not much we can do about it. Or is there? Instead of focusing on oil depletion, why not work to change U.S. and world oil consumption patterns?
Consider the U.S. military’s transition away from oil. The military, which must be highly mobile on the ground and in the sea and air, is highly reliant on oil. In 2005, the Department of Defense (DOD) consumed approximately 125 million barrels of oil, 74 percent of which was used to power transport vehicles. A military Humvee, for example, has a fuel capacity of 25 gallons and runs at 12 miles per gallon, giving it a range of 300 miles. Just one tank of fuel costs US$939. With 50,000+ humvees in use today, the total cost for fueling these vehicles can be upward of US$46 million annually. In addition, operations in the field, and often entire military camps, are powered by diesel generators that require a continuous and secure supply of fuel.
As oil prices and security risks increase, the U.S. military has become more interested in exploring alternatives. Just recently, 20 U.S. and NATO oil tankers were set afire in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, while attempting to cross the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. The DOD’s total fuel expenditure in 2007 was $13.2 billion, a 41 percent increase from 2005. All of this highlights the need to diversify the energy supply and adopt alternative means, not only for monetary reasons, but also to not waste—and endanger—soldiers during oil transport and protection. Alternative energy would allow the United States to use resources that do not require transport and to use surrounding assets freely without any possible danger. Ray Mabus, the Navy Secretary and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, stated that he hopes to generate half of all power needed for the U.S. Navy and Marines from renewable energy sources by 2020.
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