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—accounted 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.
- 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.
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 of 2022, solar energy is the fastest growing source of new electricity in the United States. There are over 3 million solar unit installations across the United States, with 1 million of these units having been built between 2020 and 2021.
There are also exciting advancements regarding wind power. Wind costs 1-2 cents per kilowatt-hour (after factoring in tax credits), making it one of the lowest-priced energy solutions available. The United States is currently investing over $10 billion each year into new wind projects, and wind is now the largest source of renewable power in the United States.
Both types of energy do have their downsides. Solar energy still faces market barriers and grid integration challenges that hinder deployment. In addition, non-hardware costs including permitting and financing pose cost challenges. Meanwhile, wind power is often best located on remote lands, far from cities where electricity is needed. Wind power may not be the most economic use of the land and may cause noise, aesthetic pollution, or negatively impact local wildlife.