America adds more sources to its energy arsenal
Ramped-up oil and gas output, more efficiency and greater use of alternatives, including geothermal, push the US closer to energy independence.
Is America indeed on the way to weaning itself off foreign oil? A lot of experts seem to think so.
In its annual global report released late last year, the International Energy Agency projected the U.S. would become the world's largest oil producer around 2020, temporarily overtaking Saudi Arabia. And thanks in part to new light oil and shale gas resources, as well as the introduction of more energy-efficient technologies, the U.S. could become a net oil exporter by 2030.
However, as the report points out, no country is an energy island.
Competitive international power markets, it notes, "are creating stronger links between gas and coal markets, while these markets also need to adapt to the increasing role of renewables and, in some cases, to the reduced role of nuclear power."
In addition, alternative and renewable energy sources are making up a growing percentage of America's new power-generating capacity. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the use of electricity generated by solar power more than tripled between late 2009 and mid-2012 -- while most of the new U.S. generators built over the past 15 years are powered by either natural gas or wind.
And another alternative and renewable power source, geothermal energy created by the Earth's heat, is apparently getting ready for prime time.
The Geothermal Energy Association, an industry trade group, says in its latest annual report that installed geothermal capacity in the U.S. grew by 5% compared to the previous, to just over 147 megawatts (MW). While that's a relatively modest amount -- a megawatt can provide power to about 1,000 homes -- the association expects the amount of U.S. power generated by geothermal energy to keep climbing.
In fact, according to GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell, the geothermal energy sector is steaming.
"The U.S. is posed to add 1,000 MW of geothermal power, more than 10 times as much geothermal capacity as during the previous decade," he said in a press statement. "And [Tuesday's] report indicates that there are over 2,500 MW more that could come online in the next decade. We are headed to 6,000 MW of geothermal, but could do much more."
Geothermal power plants are currently up and running in eight states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. And geothermal development projects are reportedly underway in Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington State.
The industry is looking for federal incentives similar to the ones extended to the solar and wind energy sectors, "to spur investors to undertake the risk of investing in new geothermal projects," says Gawell. After all, the more energy sources the nation can tap, the better off it will be.
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