By Kathryn McConnell
Oil, gas and renewable energy supplies in the United States, Canada and Brazil are shifting the balance of global energy markets, according to U.S. energy authority Daniel Yergin.
“There is greater confidence today than there was five years ago” in having enough energy to meet global demand, Yergin said during an forum at the State Department. He added that every time demand increases, new technologies become available to find and extract new supplies.
In the United States, oil production has gone up 40 percent since 2008.
“This gives us an opportunity to change the way the world thinks about and uses energy,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Carlos Pascual. Policymakers have an opportunity “to do things that are economically sound [and] geopolitically critical, especially in terms of creating the kinds of competitive global environments that reduce the type of influence that suppliers of energy might have had over their consumers in the past.”
“We can do this in a way that is good for the planet as well,” Pascual said at the forum.
Pushing the nation toward energy independence has been a major focus of the U.S. government.
Yergin noted that energy consumption growth has shifted to the fast-growth economies. He pointed to China. In 2000, he said, 17 million new cars were sold in the United States, while just 2 million were sold in China. A decade later, 17 million autos were sold in China and fewer than 12 million in the United States.
“That kind of growth and the rising incomes that go with that are going to be the driver of the global energy economy,” Yergin said.
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He said the new energy map poses several new challenges. For example, because of recent threats, the industry is having to think about providing more physical security to energy plants than they had to in the past to protect workers and facilities.
Another challenge is addressing “cyber-vulnerability” threats, or attacks on a company’s information technology systems that could affect its production.
A third challenge is in preparing for an “integrated energy shock” in which both electricity and gasoline supplies are interrupted, he said. Integrated energy shocks occurred in the United States during and following Hurricane Katrina, which struck areas along the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, and more recently in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy devastated communities along the mid-Atlantic coast.
To meet those challenges, Yergin said, energy industries look to new technologies. “There is more emphasis on innovation than ever before,” he said, adding that while solar and wind were the “biggest innovations of the last century,” the most significant innovation now is extracting natural gas trapped in dense deposits of shale.
“A decade ago [shale gas] was 2 percent of our gas production. Today it is 37 percent,” he said.
For the future, Yergin said, the world will continue to see growth in renewable energies like solar and wind. But it also will see significant growth in the conventional energies of oil and gas, he said.
“The major changes will come as we see the emphasis on innovation applied across the energy spectrum coming to fruition,” he said. “It will take time.”
Yergin is chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author and a recipient of the United States Energy Award for achievements in energy and international understanding.