Wind Energy + and -
Wind farms will generate more than 1 percent of U.S. electricity this year. The only reason projections aren't higher? The industry grew 45 percent last year and now it's running out of turbines. The American Wind Energy Association speculates that this barely tapped resource could provide 20 percent of U.S. power by 2020.
That will only happen if the money is right: Congress approved a 2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour federal tax credit for wind installations in 2005, but the credit is set to expire at the end of this year. In 2004, the last time the subsidy lapsed, construction of new installations fell 77 percent.
Solar Energy + and -
The U.S. solar industry grew nearly 60 percent last year—but still ranks below the wind sector. Google and Wal-Mart made headlines with workplace installations, and residential use continues to grow. The industry hopes solar can supply 200 gigawatt-hours per year by 2030—enough to power 20,000 households.
Money remains the issue here, too. It can cost $25,000 to retrofit a home with a basic 3-kilowatt solar system, and while prices for panels have dropped in the past 30 years, they'll have to keep coming down to meet those industry goals.
Ethanol Production + and -
This biofuel may become a crucial bridge to electric cars, and engineers at Coskata, a startup company in Warrenville, Ill., say they can create ethanol for less than $1 per gallon. The company hopes its first commercial plant will produce 100 million gal. of ethanol per year by 2011.
Coskata engineers claim that each unit of energy input generates 7.7 times as much in output, so they may have solved ethanol's sluggish energy balance issue. Still, one major hurdle remains: Fewer than 1 percent of the nation's gas stations are equipped to dispense ethanol.
The Case For Conservation +++
Better Mileage 1 Billion Barrels Saved Per Year
From 1975 to 2000, American cars cut their fuel use by the equivalent of 2.8 million barrels of oil per day, spurred largely by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) laws. Then progress stalled. December's energy law will raise CAFE standards to 35 mpg by 2020, but pushing them to 40 mpg would cut oil demand by 1 billion barrels per year, roughly our current imports from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Venezuela combined.
Improved Mass Transit 45 Million Barrels Saved Per Year
Public transportation ridership has risen 25 percent since 1995. The savings if one-third more people rode mass transit: 45 million barrels per year. (This won't happen - Tim)
More Energy-Efficient Homes 30 Million Barrels Saved Per Year
One recent study found that weatherizing oil-heated houses produced average savings of nearly 18 percent. If all oil-heated homes achieved this level by 2013, the National Resource Defense Council estimates it would save nearly 30 million barrels per year.
Streamlined Air Traffic 18 Million Barrels Saved Per Year
The Federal Aviation Administration's NextGen GPS-based air traffic control system is expected to reduce delays and speed takeoffs and landings. A Department of Energy study estimates those measures could save the equivalent of 18 million barrels per year by 2013.