Watch the latest "Fareed Zakaria GPS" special, ‘Global Lessons: The Road Map for Powering America,’ this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.
By Michael Graetzel, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Graetzel is a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where he directs the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces. He has consulted for technology firm G24i. The views expressed are his own.
For two centuries, we have been burning billions of years of photosynthetic residue, better known as fossil fuel, to power our factories, homes, vehicles and cities. But we may not need to do this much longer – solar resources are great enough for all of us. Indeed, it may surprise many to learn that the amount of solar energy striking the earth in one hour is equal to the total energy consumed by all of humanity in a whole year. Learning to capture more of this resource could yield huge dividends for humanity.
Here at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland we have developed a solar cell technology that takes its cue from photosynthesis: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs). By separating the components for light absorption (which determines the cell’s color) and the transportation of electrical current, this technology is remarkably similar to natural photosynthesis and provides unique benefits for integrating solar cells into everyday life. The color tunability and transparency of the cells, as well as an enhanced efficiency in indoor light – power conversion efficiencies can reach over 12 percent at full sunlight intensity and more than 25 percent for interior lighting – afford DSCs the opportunity to extend solar power generation seamlessly and conveniently into our office buildings and living rooms.
Over the past decade, America has experienced a technological revolution–not, as expected, in renewable energy but rather in the extraction of oil and gas. As a result, domestic supplies of new sources of energy–shale gas, oil from shale, tight sands and the deepwater, natural-gas liquids–are booming. The impact is larger than anyone expected.
In 2011, for the first time since 1949, the U.S. became a net exporter of refined petroleum products. Several studies this year have projected that by the end of this decade, the U.S. will surpass both Russia and Saudi Arabia and become the world's largest producer of oil and liquid natural gas.
Watch the latest "Fareed Zakaria GPS" special, ‘Global Lessons: The Road Map for Powering America,’ this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.
By Frank Verrastro, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Frank Verrastro is director of the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and international Studies. The views expressed are his own and were in part included in testimony to the U.S. Senate.
As the political rhetoric surrounding U.S. energy “independence” heats up, it is worth pointing out a few things to help provide much needed context. After all, there are plenty of things at play here in the coming months and years – resource access and regulatory policy, fuels choices, infrastructure build out, industrial policy, imports and exports, tax and investment decisions, the role of nuclear, subsidies for alternatives, efficiency priorities, SPR policy, environmental concerns and the use of energy as a geopolitical or foreign policy tool. Whew!
For starters, the United States is already over 80 percent (up from 70 percent a decade ago) self sufficient when it comes to energy production and use. We are routinely described as the Saudi Arabia of coal, and have the largest nuclear fleet in the world. We are the world’s largest natural gas producer and the 3rd largest oil producer. Renewables account for roughly 10 percent of our energy mix and we have in place a variety of efficiency standards, mandates and incentive programs. That said, our transportation fleet is more than 94 percent dependent on liquid fuels, mostly petroleum based, and as oil is a globally traded commodity, changes in worldwide supply and demand consequently impact U.S. consumer prices.
By Scott Tinker, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dr. Scott W. Tinker is the acting associate dean of research at the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT Austin. He is the state geologist of Texas and recently co-produced the global energy documentary ‘Switch.’ He also serves on the Technical Advisory Council for BP.
Several years ago, I briefed a U.S. Senate hearing on the possibility of energy independence. “Probably not in our lifetimes,” I said boldly. “Energy security is a better goal.” That probably wasn’t what the senators wanted to hear, and as it turns out, in terms of energy independence, I may well have been wrong.
The concept of independence is deeply embedded in the American psyche. Our nation began with a declaration of it. But what does independence mean in the context of energy? Most would agree that energy independence is achieved when a nation produces more energy than it consumes – countries such as Brazil. So, how does the United States stack up?
Today, oil represents just over one-third of total U.S. energy consumption, and we import about half of that oil. One way to become independent would be to replace imported oil with a substitute. Easy to say, hard to do: hundreds of millions of cars, trucks, and planes run almost exclusively on gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that come from oil. So why are we still dependent on oil? Because fuels made from it have physical properties – tremendous energy density, easy to transport globally and no solid residue or ash, making them nearly perfect transportation fuels. Just fill up in three minutes and drive some more! And all those fill-ups add up to about 10 million barrels of imported oil every day. Substituting something else will take time.
By Kevin Massy and Govinda Avasarala, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kevin Massy is associate director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Govinda Avasarala is senior research assistant with the Energy Security Initiative. The views expressed are their own.
“Energy Independence” has been the rallying cry of politicians since the administration of Richard Nixon and an object of ridicule among cynical energy wonks for about as long. The truth is that the United States can rid itself of that pesky dependency on unreliable international markets. But maybe it isn’t such a good idea.
First, let’s establish what we’re talking about. When politicians rhapsodize about “energy independence” they are nearly always referring to oil. “Energy independence” suggests a scenario in which the United States supplies its own needs, islanded from international oil markets and unaffected by international disruptions to oil supply; a scenario in which unrest in Dhahran will not affect John Doe in Des Moines. To achieve this, the U.S. simply has to make sure that oil consumption always meets domestic oil production, and that all exports and imports are prohibited. But this is not as straightforward as it sounds.
By Rob Sobhani, Special to CNN
Rob Sobhani is president of Caspian Group Holdings, which has interests in green energy and infrastructure projects, and author of ‘King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence’. The views expressed are his own.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain is one of America’s key allies in the Persian Gulf. He’s also among a growing number of political leaders in the Middle East who see more than oil in the region’s future. After all, the Middle East is blessed with an abundance of another natural resource: sunshine.
Bahrain wants to take full advantage of this reality, and harnessing solar energy has become a top priority in the country. But the government has also taken the surprising step of seeking long-term partnerships with leading American solar energy companies.
By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.
News last week that over 100 people had been affected by a toxic spill from the copper mine in Antamina added more fuel to the debate in Peru over the safety and responsibility of mining. Despite the spills and controversy, the extraction of natural resources in Peru contributed the largest share to the county’s impressive 7-plus percent average growth for the last seven years. But can it continue?
For almost a year, another conflict has raged north of where last week’s spill occurred in Cajamarca between a handful of community leaders and Colorado-based Newmont over the mining company’s plans to develop and expand the gold and copper Conga mines. Local community leaders, supported by international non-governmental organizations, claim that Newmont’s operations will pollute water sources, a charge disputed by the mining company and a number of studies it has commissioned. Public marches, road blockages and violence over the Conga mines have crippled the national government and forced President Ollanta Humala to make several cabinet changes.
In Peru and outside, the clash has been portrayed as emblematic of the escalating and inevitable tension between the global markets’ demand for natural resources and the environmental and political rights of the communities where those commodities are produced.
By Michael Levi, CFR
Michael Levi is director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.
Last week, the Obama administration tightened its oil-related sanctions against Iran. This was followed by new congressional legislation that promises to extend those sanctions further. Yet less than a year ago, most observers found such stringent sanctions against the Iranian oil sector unthinkable.
What has happened to so fundamentally change the picture? It’s worth looking at three things.
A Change in Politics
There’s no question that the Obama administration was initially less enthusiastic about oil sanctions than Congress was. But political power moved in ways that gave Congress more control. Ultimately, the administration struck a bargain rather than try to defeat sanctions legislation. It got language that allowed it to exercise extensive discretion in applying the sanctions: it could hold off if the economy would be put at substantial risk; it could also exempt other countries that were making solid efforts to wean themselves off Iranian crude. The decision to cooperate with Congress was critical – it opened the door for other factors to push the United States further down the sanctions road.
There is broad scientific agreement global warming is happening and that humans are at least partially to blame. But there are some important scientific skeptics. Last month, in the New York Times, one of the most important of them did a public about-face. Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, now says it’s real and humans are almost entirely to blame. Here’s his conversation with Fareed Zakaria from the latest episode of GPS.
You say in that piece that all scientists should be skeptics. And I think you’re right. I remember Niels Bohr once said that every statement should be taken by a scientist as a provisional hypothesis that has to be tested. So what made you start doubting your original skepticism? What evidence convinced you that something real was happening here?
The issues were so large that about two-and-a-half years ago, my daughter and I began a major scientific research effort in which we recruited a dozen of some of the top scientists in the world, including Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel Prize last year – well after he joined our team. So we felt there were questions that were valid, questions about data reliability, about data adjustment, about the choice of the stations which had been used. These demanded attention and I couldn’t get the answers. The only way to do it is to do the study ourselves.
By Milan Vaishnav, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Milan Vaishnav is an associate in the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are his own.
An estimated more than 600 million Indians spent their Tuesday without electricity as the country experienced a second day of record power outages, further deepening the crisis that began on Monday when 300 million were left powerless. The “Great Power Outage”—described as the biggest blackout in history—had an immediate impact on the lives of Indians across more than twenty states.
India’s rail system, one of the largest in the world, ground to a halt. Mine workers were trapped underground when the outages struck. Government offices across northern and eastern India were shuttered. And the fallout from the blackout could have been even worse except for the fact that millions of Indians, long frustrated by the country’s endemic power cuts, have invested in their own diesel-operated generators to keep the lights on when the grid fails.
By Fareed Zakaria
Last year, the world's energy watchdog published a report which asked an important question: "Are we entering a golden age of gas?"
So I was struck when I saw the International Energy Agency's 2012 report. Gone is the question mark.
Instead it says, simply: "Golden rules for a golden age of gas."
And the starting point of that golden age is right here in America.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the shale gas revolution is a game-changer not just for the energy industry, not just for the U.S. — but for geopolitics. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Be sure to catch Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN every Sunday at 10am and 1pm ET.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
At the start of this year, I predicted, rather hopefully, that the U.S. economy would recover nicely in 2012. I'm returning to that topic with some preliminary good news. If you look around the industrialized world, the U.S. economy is the most promising of the bunch.
The American recovery is not as vigorous as one might hope, but it is remarkably broad-based. Manufacturing is up - including, for the first time in thirty years, non-technology based manufacturing. Retail sales are up; consumer confidence and spending are growing. The new employment numbers are encouraging. American businesses continue to do astonishingly well. Corporate profitability continues to grow and the stock market reflects this.
The one area that continues to lag is housing, and it's a huge area. Traditionally, housing leads every recovery. This time it hasn't because the bursting of the housing bubble and the problems associated with mortgages and housing debt have left it struggling. But at some point that will end. FULL POST