Twitter Facebook LinkedIn YouTube Pinterest Google Plus


 September 2007 

Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.U.S. Faces Global Competition for Energy

September 2007

By Lawrence P. Farrell Jr.

For most Americans, the most visible sign that the nation could be headed for an energy crisis is the price of gasoline.

But the challenges are much broader, and will require the United States to begin now to take the necessary steps to avert a future when energy will be less available and far more expensive.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, energy demand worldwide will increase dramatically by 2030. Today, 85 percent of U.S. consumption is supplied by petroleum (40 percent), natural gas (23 percent) and coal (22 percent). By 2030, these three energy sources will account for 87 percent of U.S. consumption. But the absolute demand for all three will rise substantially — with coal leading the pack at 53 percent.

All this happens while domestic oil production falls 16 percent and imports grow by 34 percent. Refinery capacity only sees minor increases while refinery utilization grows from 93 percent to 95 percent. These are troubling indicators that point to rising prices for refined gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel.

Electricity demand also will rise, by about 51 percent. The U.S. demand, it should be noted, assumes a 39 percent efficiency improvement by 2030.

This scenario gets even more complicated by predictions that by 2030, world energy use will grow even faster than U.S. consumption.

The implications of all this are rather ominous. The rampant demand for energy will create fierce competition for scarce resources.

The United States must prepare for this reality. Unfortunately, the nation is not making enough progress in developing new energy sources and shifting demand to more secure and renewable sources. Pressure on the electrical grid only will intensify.

The upshot is that we need to do more, and do it faster, to address the energy needs of the future.

In addition to fuel-efficient vehicles, there are other technologies that the nation must explore. One is fusion, which is still many years out. The Naval Research Laboratory — in partnership with the Department of Energy, academia and industry — is planning to develop by 2028 a fusion energy prototype using lasers to fuse deuterium and tritium. An interim target is to have a fusion test facility up and running by 2018. A byproduct of this process would be hydrogen — a source for other energy applications such as fuel cells.

Fuel cells have seen great progress, almost unnoticed. Because they are based on electrochemistry, not combustion, fuel cells tend to be low emission and high efficiency. They are easily scalable to a wide range of applications. They are quiet, with few moving parts, and can employ a variety of fuels. This makes them highly suitable for military use in portable power systems, vehicles, weapon systems, installations, communications, electricity and heat.

Some of the most significant fuel-cell developments are the upcoming introduction of the Honda FCX automobile — scheduled for production in three to four years — and the U212 non-nuclear submarine auxiliary power unit, which permits a three-week undersea operation.

The National Fuel Cell Test and Evaluation Center is operated by Concurrent Technologies Corp. in Johnstown, Pa. A portion of the plant is powered by a large 2,500 Kilovolt-Amps fuel cell. Another 126 Defense Department facilities have complete or partial fuel cell power.

In summary, the energy issues we face are wide ranging. The electric grid will be stressed. Refined petroleum products will be more scarce and more expensive.

Given the rapidly increasing demand for energy, the situation likely will deteriorate. Our projected resources to meet the escalating demand do not change until 2030. We need to do more to diversify our sources and diminish the demand for traditional fossil fuels.

For the past two months, this column has attempted to stimulate a conversation on energy. One of the topics covered was the relationship between national security and energy. I have also examined the impact of transportation on energy demand, as well as the Defense Department’s energy initiatives in acquisition programs. This month, the discourse continues with a focus on where the energy equation is headed in the future.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the solution to our energy challenges require a portfolio of approaches that factor both supply and demand. Other than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the global war on terrorism, energy security is the most vital topic on the national plate. There is more discussion to come next month.

Please e-mail your comments to



Affiliate Associations

The Association for Enterprise Information    National Training and Simulation Association    Precision Strike Association    Women in Defense