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 more than 80% of total energy consumption in the United States. 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 house 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.
Currently, the U.S. has 96 nuclear power reactors that provide an estimated 20% of all domestic electrical output. Many other countries have larger concentrations of nuclear energy; France, for example, is the world's foremost nuclear power and generates almost 80% of its electricity through it.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), nuclear power is the most effective substitute to challenge fossil fuels for future energy consumption. Compared to coal, gas, oil, and ethanol, nuclear power produces almost negligible adverse climate effects.
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.
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.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that consumers currently rely on solar and wind power for between 8% and 10% of global energy use. However, the IEA acknowledges that specific policy frameworks need to be enacted, such as tax-funded government subsidies and grants, to increase the use of these alternatives. Still, IEA reports that "renewable power capacity is set to expand by 50% between 2019 and 2024" led by growth in solar photovoltaics.