“With the price of oil above $50 a barrel, with political instability in the Middle East on the rise, and with little slack in the world oil economy, we need a new energy strategy,” says Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based research institute. “Fortunately, the outline of a new strategy is emerging with two new technologies.
These technologies–gas-electric hybrid engines and advanced-design wind turbines–offer a way to wean ourselves from imported oil, says Brown. If over the next decade we convert the U.S. automobile fleet to gas-electric hybrids having the efficiency of today’s Toyota Prius (55 miles per gallon combined city/highway driving) we could cut our gasoline use in half. No change in the number of vehicles, no change in miles driven–just doing it more efficiently.
With gas-electric hybrid cars now on the market, the stage is set for the second step to reduce oil dependence–the use of wind-generated electricity to power automobiles. If we add to the gas-electric hybrid a plug-in capacity and a second battery to increase its electricity storage, says Brown, motorists could then do their commuting, shopping and other short-distance travel largely with electricity, saving gasoline for the occasional long trip.
This could lop another 20 percent off gasoline use in addition to the initial 50 percent cut from shifting to gas-electric hybrids, for a total reduction in gasoline use of 70 percent.
Moving to the highly efficient gas-electric hybrids with a plug-in capacity, combined with the construction of thousands of wind farms across the country feeding electricity into a national grid, will provide the energy security that has eluded us for three decades, says Brown.
Brown points out that some 40 million consumers in Europe now fill their residential electricity needs via wind energy, with 195 million (half the population of Western Europe) projected to do so by 2020.
In the U.S., a 1991 Department of Energy study reported that three states–Kansas, North Dakota and Texas–have enough harnessable energy to meet all national electricity needs. Wind turbine design has improved enormously since then, with generating costs dropping from 38 cents per kilowatt-hour in the 1980s to 3 or 4 cents today.
This will also rejuvenate farm and ranch communities and shrink the U.S. balance-of-trade deficit. Even more importantly, it will dramatically cut carbon emissions, making the U.S. a model in the climate-stabilization effort that other countries can emulate.