A Real Path to Energy Independence

a real path to energy independence

We very recently addressed sticker shock many individuals and businesses are likely to feel in the short-term future as a result of cuts to global oil production. Since then, the alarm bells have only gotten louder as the Biden administration continues to grapple with a response that will bring real financial relief to consumers.

In other (less-than-encouraging) news, more signs have emerged that energy spending will spike during the winter ahead, all as profits soar for U.S. energy companies.

Escalating crises and insufficient responses have led to a pretty bleak outlook for the resilience of our energy systems. The small silver lining is that the current situation has sparked new conversations about our nation’s energy independence—but there’s still a long, long way to go.

The New York Times outlines measures being taken in order to shore up U.S. energy security, noting that the White House has set aside nearly 200 million barrels of oil to be released from the country’s strategic reserves this year. The last 15 million barrels are set to be released in December as an aid to rising gas prices.

And… then what?

Emergency reserves run dry. Prices continue shifting in response to actions that affect oil supplies globally and America’s profit-driven oil companies will continue to sell to the highest bidder. As long as America keeps relying so heavily on fossil fuels to meet our energy needs, we’ll find ourselves facing unavoidable geopolitical complications. Energy independence is simply out of reach.

Understanding (and Addressing) Energy Independence

Admittedly, energy independence is a bit of a fluid concept. Even among experts, it’s difficult to come to an exact consensus on the meaning of the term. But if we consider it in terms of what energy independence can and should mean to everyday Americans—a steady flow of locally-produced energy at reliable prices, free from interference by global forces—we have to reach beyond barrels of oil and make a more fundamental change.

First and foremost, conversations related to energy independence and energy security must prioritize a future without fossil fuels. Renewables are the only direct, surefire way to establish energy systems that aren’t innately linked to the decisions of a few oil-rich countries around the world or otherwise susceptible to outside interference. With the right renewable energy resources, power is generated and put to use all in the same location, immediately removing all the complications of international trade.

Microgrids can do exactly this. Capable of producing energy and distributing it to nearby locations even when isolated from the larger grid, they eliminate concerns related to third-party interference in energy generation. The power produced by your microgrid isn’t affected by supply shortages, price spikes, or—in an absolute worst-case scenario—a cyberattack on the grid by a foreign actor. That’s true energy independence. (And while a more secure future for our nation’s energy supply is absolutely worthwhile on its own, the fact that microgrids replace emissions-heavy fossil fuels with a supply of clean energy should be an irresistible added benefit for anyone concerned about the future of the planet as a whole.)

Taking Serious Action on Energy Solutions

Despite the compelling possibilities, this powerful opportunity for local energy generation has gone underutilized and under-incentivized. Although the Biden administration’s latest move in addressing the energy crisis does include $2.8 billion in grants for clean energy projects, electric vehicles are the primary beneficiary. With turmoil in the global oil market expected to continue, a boost in EV production simply doesn’t meet the urgency of our current need. Any attempt to address energy security that doesn’t aim to create more reliable and sustainable sources for our national power supply is shortsighted.

Establishing a robust national network of microgrids will take time, and it’s clear that we don’t have a moment to waste. Every serious action intended to increase America’s energy independence should involve steps toward the deployment of more distributed energy resources across the country.

Solutions that give us real power over our energy systems are within reach. Our ambitions must be focused on making these resources more accessible (and more enticing) to as many people as possible.