A free-market energy blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

The United States is the World's True Energy Superpower

We are used to hearing about how far behind the curve the United States is on energy. Just today, we were reminded that Germany and China will gobble up our future since we have failed to invest in solar and wind technologies, in particular, photovoltaic fabrication plants.

Actually, that’s not quite true. There are quite a number of PV plants in the U.S., just not any using the technology touted by the New York Times reporter.

And as for wind: did you know that “China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy.” That is not true either. Current wind generating capacity in the U.S. is just shy of 30,000 MW, larger than any other country, including Germany (24,000 MW) and China (13,000 MW).

What about biofuels? We are told constantly that Brazil has cleared the field of all competition in the ethanol arena (some of us wish they would, and take the subsidies and over-priced food with them, but that is a story for another day). Well, that is another urban myth. In 2008 the U.S. produced about 457,000 b/d oil equivalent, almost half the world’s total. Brazil came in second with 382,000 b/d oil equivalent.

Hardly Worth Mentioning when the Future of World Energy Is Discussed?

And when it comes to conventional energy – oil, gas, coal, nuclear – one would be hard-pressed to think that the US was a factor at all (no mention in the IEA’s review of future energy supplies). In fact, writing in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former director of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services and ambassador to the United States, called Saudi Arabia “the world’s energy superpower.”

If producing 5.2% of the world’s primary energy makes it THE superpower, then what does one call the country that produces 15.5% of the world’s primary energy? One would call that country the United States of America. The U.S. produces more energy than all of Europe (10.4% of world primary energy production), all of Eurasia (the former Soviet Union – 14.9%), China (14.4%) or the entire Middle East (13.9%).

When listening to the amped-up pessimism of the peak oilists, the fans of heavy state control, and the pleadings of foreign governments, it is important to understand that the US has by far the most diversified and advanced primary energy system. While the U.S. is not at the top of every measure of primary energy production, the country is a significant producer in every important primary energy source, including oil (#3), gas (#2), coal (#2), wind (#1), nuclear (#1), ethanol (#1), renewable electricity (all sources – #4). The increase in U.S. natural gas output in the last three years, equivalent to about 1 million b/d of oil, exceeds the decline in Mexico’s oil output in that period. But who knew about the shale gas success amidst the din regarding Mexico’s disastrous mismanagement of its oil sector? And yet, virtually no mention is made of the role of the U.S. as a producer in discussions of future energy supply. Sort of like the elephant sitting in the room quietly, without notice.

The moral of the story is that markets only make news when they crash. Governments make news all the time.

9 comments

1 Matthew Sinclair { 09.17.09 at 4:01 pm }

The US is falling behind. On the key environmentalist priority, for other people, of being poor and rare. All that diverse energy production is a bit of a waste if you guys have the temerity to produce children and high living standards.

2 John Droz { 09.17.09 at 5:22 pm }

There seems to be an unsupported assumption here — i.e. that “How far behind the curve the United States is on energy” is correlated to the US efforts in areas like wind and solar energy.

No such relationship exists.

It’s something like saying that the US’s global position regarding food production is related to how many Twinkies we make.

3 Donald Hertzmark { 09.17.09 at 5:45 pm }

John,
As you correctly observe, the measures of wind and solar are the implicit metrics of progress according to many in the energy policy world. My purpose in putting all of this information on the table is to show that there is no reason to be stampeded into unwise energy policies and technology support. We already have enough of those, hence our leading positions in ethanol and wind. We do not need to push the envelope further in those directions.

At the same time, unless the government commits in a major way to some particular approach – nuclear, coal gasification, wind, whatever – it appears that such efforts are not even visible in the world of policymakers, even if they are quite significant in the real world of energy production and use. The US shale gas bonanza is not even mentioned in the IEA forecasts, even those relating to LNG trade. Even more striking, the potential for shale resources outside the US is not considered in any gas scenarios. That is the work of normal markets and not of interest to the policy community. In the case of Mexico’s decline in oil output mismanagement and policy errors are taken as indicia of geological catastrophe. We could call such willful ignorance of the impacts of incentives, for good and for ill, the Twinkie defense.

4 John Droz { 09.18.09 at 3:10 am }

Don:

There is absolutely no argument that the US needs a sensible energy policy — which would be based on sound science, rather than political favoritism.

Right now lobbyists are running the show, and until that gets fixed I see little hope for genuine solutions. Instead there will be trillions spent on such high-cost low-benefit gestures like wind energy.

5 Marlo Lewis { 09.18.09 at 10:14 am }

Great post, Don. Very much in the Julian Simon tradition — you take a dogma embraced by every eco-activist, “concerned” scientist, and “progressive” politician, compare it to facts available on government Web sites, and voila — the myth crumbles. Very nice.

6 Andrew { 09.18.09 at 7:07 pm }

“the country is a significant producer in every important primary energy source, including oil (#3), gas (#2), coal (#2), wind (#1), nuclear (#1), ethanol (#1), renewable electricity (all sources – #4).”

I have to object to ethanol being called “important”. And I also have to object to touting ethanol as an example of:

“The moral of the story is that markets only make news when they crash. Governments make news all the time.”

Quite frankly, ethanol is in fact an example of the government in the news…when the news is good. The bad about ethanol is often absent though. And make no mistake, our “success” in ethanol has nothing to do with markets.

7 Andrew { 09.18.09 at 7:08 pm }

Oh-but other than that, very informative and and good work! :)

8 Cooler Heads Digest 25 September 2009 | GlobalWarming.org { 10.05.09 at 9:01 am }

[...] The United States Is the World’s True Energy Superpower Donald Hertzmark, MasterResource.org, 18 September, 2009 [...]

9 The United States is the World's True Energy Superpower { 07.26.12 at 5:13 pm }

[...] of the story is that markets only make news when they crash. Governments make news all the time. The United States is the World's True Energy Superpower — MasterResource "A Dead Enemy Is A Peaceful Enemy – Blessed Be The Peacemakers" Reply [...]

Leave a Comment