BY MODESTO MAIDIQUE AND GEORGE PHILIPPIDIS Special to The Miami Herald Herald Energy Article For anyone who thinks a $700 billion bailout is a lot of money for Americans to commit to this economic rescue plan, consider this: In this country, we spend about that much on foreign oil every single year. And what do we have to show for it? Over the past 30 years, our dependence on foreign…

">

Diversifying our energy is imminent security concern

BY MODESTO MAIDIQUE
AND GEORGE PHILIPPIDIS
Special to The Miami Herald

Herald Energy Article

For anyone who thinks a $700 billion bailout is a lot of money for Americans to commit to this economic rescue plan, consider this: In this country, we spend about that much on foreign oil every single year. And what do we have to show for it?

Over the past 30 years, our dependence on foreign oil has perilously increased from 20 percent to 62 percent, giving OPEC enormous leverage over U.S. policy. Cheap gasoline in the United States (half of what Europeans pay) for years has fueled our disregard for energy conservation and efficiency. While other nations not as rich as the United States have been pursuing alternative forms of energy — such as biofuels, solar, wind and nuclear — we have been treating energy as an issue of secondary importance. As developing countries consume more of the world’s oil production and new oil discoveries   flatten,   the United States is facing a dan-gerous situation with regard to its energy security.

The only way to secure America’s   future   is   by aggressively increasing the nation’s fuel efficiency while investing  in  domestic  fuel and energy sources as soon as possible. It is a matter of national security and should be treated as such — nothing less than a new Manhattan project. We are the world’s leader in research and inge-nuity,  but  we  lack  a  long-term vision and, so far, the political will to implement energy    diversification regardless of the price of oil.

THOSE LEADING WAY    

Brazil is a prime example of the opposite: A country with   a   fraction   of   ourresources has achieved fuel diversity  and  even  self-sufficiency. Since the 1970s, it has  instituted  a  long-term policy of ethanol and flexi-ble-fuel vehicle production, allowing   its   citizens   to choose their fuel among etha-nol, gasoline and natural gas. It was not easy, but govern-ment and the private sector worked together despite eco-nomic  and  political  chal-lenges.

Similarly, large European countries like Germany and Spain  are  on  their  way  to making  biofuels,  solar  and wind energy a major compo-nent of their energy portfo-lios. The United Kingdom is tapping ocean energy, while over half of France’s electric-ity  comes  from  nuclear energy. A combination of tax incentives and greenhouse-gas emission mandates have led to widespread adoption
of renewables in Europe.

A PLACE TO START    

The United States is by far the world’s largest importer and  consumer  of  oil.  Our transportation sector burns 10 million barrels of gasoline a  day,  an  amount  almost equal  to  all  of  the  oil  we import. Our goal should not be to simply replace oil with another  single  fuel,  but rather to introduce a variety of  alternatives  to  oil.  We have a number of options at our disposal. First and fore-most, we should start with biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. The most signifi-cant domestic source of these fuels  is  abundant,  inedible and inexpensive biomass — plant material such as wood waste,  corn  stover,  wheat straw,  sugar  cane  bagasse and  yard  waste.  Although great technical progress has been achieved to date, a long-term policy that makes bio-fuels a top national priority will  attract  private  invest-ment to accelerate their com-mercialization  in  the  next five years.

At  the  same  time,  U.S. energy policy should boost investment  in  automotive technologies  that  enhance fuel economy, regardless of the  fuel  used,  and  reduce emissions of climate-chang-ing gases. More than 70 per-cent  of  Americans  drive under 25 miles a day, which can  be  readily  accommo-dated with newly developed plug-in rechargeable batter-ies, while longer distances can be powered by biofuels. Such a combination of new technologies could drop our gasoline use by as much as 75 percent  within  10 years, significantly   freeing   the United  States  from  its  oil dependence once and for all.    

The  government  should not  dictate  which  biofuelsand automotive technologies should make it to the com-mercial arena — this should be  left  to  market  forces. However, since energy secu-rity is of national importance, the government should man-date that all new vehicles be made fuel-flexible, no longer limiting us to the use of only oil products. Financial incen-tives  should  be  provided directly to U.S. consumers to switch   to   flex-fuel   and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It is criminal to send billions of dollars every year to rogue oil-producing nations, when we can spend a fraction of that amount to help Ameri-can consumers change their habits and stop this monu-mental   hemorrhage   of national wealth.

THE ROAD AHEAD

The road to energy inde-pendence  will  be  fraught with difficulties. It will takevision ,    execution    and patience. But above all, it will take political will to turn the United States into an econ-omy  that  is  fueled  by  a diverse  array  of  energy sources and is no longer hos-tage to oil. Fuel and energy diversity —  biofuels  frombiomass, solar, wind, nuclear and  others  —  will  lead  to price competition benefiting the U.S. consumer and help usher the country into an era of  long-term  energy  and national security.

Dr. Modesto Maidique is president of Florida Interna-tional University, co-author of ‘‘Energy Future,’’ a New York Times  best  seller,  and  has served on the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board. Dr. George Philippidis is energy director at FIU and an expert in energy and biofuels with experience in both the private and public sectors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *