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America's Energy Opportunity
How to Harness the New Sources of U.S. Power
MICHAEL LEVI is David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Councilon Foreign Relations. His most recent book is The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future (Oxford University Press, 2013), from which parts of this essay are adapted. Copyright ©Oxford University Press. Follow him on Twitter @levi_m.See more by this author
An energy revolution is unfolding in the United States -- but unlike most past or promised revolutions, this one is not confined to a single fuel or technology. After falling for more than two straight decades after 1985, U.S. crude oil production has now risen for four consecutive years, and in 2012, it posted its largest one-year increase since the dawn of the oil industry more than 150 years ago. Meanwhile, in 2011, natural gas surpassed coal as the United States' biggest source of domestically produced energy, thanks to surging output and plunging prices. And all this growth in U.S. fossil fuel production has not prevented the rise of zero-carbon energy sources: the amount of electricity generated from cutting-edge renewables -- wind, solar, and geothermal -- has doubled since 2008, and prices have plummeted. Moreover, as technological innovations have made U.S. motor vehicles more fuel efficient, the country's oil consumption has fallen by nearly ten percent since 2005, reversing what previously seemed to be an interminable upward trend.
The U.S. energy landscape has not undergone such drastic changes since the 1960s and 1970s, which witnessed the emergence of nuclear power, peak U.S. oil production, two oil crises in the Middle East, and the birth of the environmental movement. Not surprisingly, the present transformation is prompting big predictions about the future. Oil and gas enthusiasts are projecting such massive growth in production that the United States might soon grasp the Holy Grail, energy independence; natural gas, meanwhile, is being hailed as a one-stop solution to climate change and a replacement for petroleum. Advocates of renewable energy are just as jubilant, predicting that their technologies will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels, and supporters of advanced automobile technologies are heralding an impending move beyond oil. Virtually every energy booster is also insisting that his or her fuel or technology of choice will turbocharge the U.S. economy.