What Are the Main Substitutes for Oil and Gas Energy?

The main alternatives to oil and gas energy include nuclear power, solar power, ethanol, and wind power. Fossil fuels still dwarf these alternatives in global and domestic energy markets, but there is considerable public momentum to increase their utilization as industries shift towards sustainability and more green business practices.

Fossil fuels—comprised primarily of energy sources from coal, oil, propane, and natural gas—account for 79% of total energy consumption in the United States, in 2020.

Alternative forms of energy have, to this point, proven to be uneconomic substitutes; they are less efficient and more expensive (or, in the case of nuclear power, completely restricted from expanding) than fossil fuels. As a result, the government currently provides a lot of subsidies for consumers who choose cleaner forms of renewable energy either for their houses or for their vehicles.

The many oil alternatives are ballooning as more research and development occurs in this space, and as supply and demand laws of economics eventually push down prices to be competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

Key Takeaways

  • Solar, wind, and nuclear power are all alternative forms of energy.
  • Oil and gas dominate the global market but alternate forms of energy are gaining ground as research and development into cleaner energies continue.
  • Nuclear power is less expensive than other forms of "green" energy like hydropower or solar.
  • Solar and wind energy are expensive forms of alternative energy due to massive capital costs.
  • While nuclear power is common in some European countries, it has not been embraced as strongly in the U.S. for myriad reasons.

Nuclear Power

At the end of 2020, the U.S. had 94 operating nuclear power reactors that provided an estimated 20% of all domestic electrical output. Many other countries have larger concentrations of nuclear energy; France, for example, is one of the world's foremost nuclear power and generates almost 70% of its electricity through it.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear power is the most reliable energy source when compared to other energy sources.

More importantly, nuclear power can run much more cheaply than other clean energy forms, such as solar, wind, or hydropower. Nevertheless, in the U.S. (and many other countries), governments have put a stop to nuclear expansion for decades—partly out of fears for public safety, and partly for political reasons. Events like Chernobyl are still scarring examples of nuclear power gone wrong in many people's minds, making the prospect of nuclear as an oil alternative psychologically hard to embrace.

However, as research around safe nuclear energy develops, it's possible that clean nuclear power will eventually power entire cities. Bill Gates, for example, has already started a company called TerraPower that is investigating ways to harness the power of nuclear power for the long term.

Power lines, hacker prevention to power grids, and providing clean energy resources are all part of President Joe Biden's $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $550 billion in new funding to rebuild roads and bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, and the internet, among other items. The new law provides $65 billion in funds for energy-related areas. The money will be invested in researching and developing next-generation technologies like clean hydrogen, advanced nuclear, and carbon capture.

Solar and Wind Power

Solar and wind power are also two popular renewable energy sources. Proponents argue that these substitutes offer a clean break from fossil fuels and rely on power from natural sources.

As the Institute for Energy Research points out, this isn't really true. Most contemporary solar and wind plants need constant backup power sources.

Usually, electricity generated from a coal plant is still used to keep these oil alternatives running, in case it gets cloudy, or the winds die down. In addition, solar panels and wind farms also have massive up-front capital costs.

Despite rising costs for key materials used to make solar panels and wind turbines, additions of new renewable power capacity this year are forecast to rise to 290 gigawatts (GW) in 2021, surpassing the previous all-time high set last year, according to the latest edition of the IEA’s annual Renewables Market Report. Renewables are set to account for almost 95% of the increase in global power capacity through 2026, with solar PV alone providing more than half. The amount of renewable capacity added over the period of 2021 to 2026 is expected to be 50% higher than from 2015 to 2020. 

Article Sources

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  1. U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Nonfossil Fuel Sources Accounted for 21% of U.S. Energy Consumption in 2020." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Nuclear Explained-U.S. Nuclear Industry." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  3. World Nuclear Association. "Nuclear Power in France." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  4. U.S. Department of Energy. "Nuclear Power Is the Most Reliable Energy Source and It's Not Even Close." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  5. TerraPower. "TerraPower—A Nuclear Innovation Company." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  6. The White House. "Updated Fact Sheet: Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  7. Institute for Energy Research. "Cost of Transitioning to 100-Percent Renewable Energy." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  8. International Energy Agency. "Renewable Electricity Growth is Accelerating Faster Than Ever Worldwide, Supporting the Emergence of the New Global Energy Economy." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

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