As energy prices have soared in recent months, an “all of the above” energy strategy has caught the attention of both policymakers and the public. This “all of the above” approach focuses on removing bureaucratic barriers and tapping into all available domestic energy resources, letting the market demand for each energy source boost overall energy supply. Supply chain shortages, regulatory pressure, and Russia’s war with Ukraine have made lawmakers aware of just how valuable increasing all types of energy production in the United States will improve energy security and affordability.
But not to be overlooked are the environmental benefits of an “all of the above” energy strategy, as numerous energy sources have advantages that can be pressed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By casting a wide net, an “all of the above” strategy can capture the benefits that American-produced fossil fuels, various clean energy sources, and technological innovation bring to the table.
Not all fossil fuels are created equal, and American-made oil and gas is produced in a much more environmentally suitable way than fossil fuels from top global competitors like Russia, China, and Venezuela. For example, Russian gas exports to Europe have 41 percent higher lifecycle emissions than American gas exports to Europe and 47 percent higher lifecycle emissions than American gas exported to China. Similarly, Venezuelan heavy oil produces 50 percent more lifecycle emissions than light oil produced in Wyoming. Even American-mined coal is orders of magnitude cleaner than Russian and Chinese-mined coal.
This presents an enormous opportunity for American energy producers and the U.S. economy. Fossil fuel use won’t disappear overnight, and energy revenues of authoritarian countries are often used to create international headaches for American interests. Boosting exports of cleaner American fuels to meet a larger share of the world’s energy needs can displace dirtier foreign fossil fuels and help reduce emissions without requiring an overhaul of importing countries’ energy sectors. Encouraging importers to switch to American fuels is good economic, environmental, and foreign policy.
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Similarly, an “all of the above” approach recognizes that numerous sources of clean energy can be leveraged to produce more clean power. In fact, roughly 40 percent of America’s electricity is already produced from zero emissions energy sources. Nuclear power provides roughly 20 percent of our power and renewables provide another 20 percent, with wind accounting for 9 percent, hydropower 6 percent, solar 3 percent, and various other sources making up the rest. Of these, wind and solar power are the fastest-growing clean energy sources, more than doubling their share of America’s electric generation over the past decade projected to keep growing at a breakneck pace. Their low-cost energy generation makes them a valuable addition to the power mix, but their dependence on cooperative weather conditions mean that other sources must serve as the power mix’s backbone.
This means that America’s oldest clean power sources will continue to remain vital. Hydropower, while subject to rainfall and snowpack variations, has provided steady clean power for decades. With only 3 percent of America’s 80,000 dams outfitted to produce power — and a recent renewal in legislative attention — there is plenty of room for growth. Nuclear power, which accounts for half of America’s emissions-free power, is primed for a revival with the advent of smaller, cheaper next generation nuclear reactors. Reducing regulatory barriers to allow for a natural resurgence of America’s “legacy” clean energy sources is crucial for producing around-the-clock clean energy.
Lastly, by not discriminating between energy sources, an “all of the above” approach recognizes that innovation and market competition will create new opportunities. Technological innovation has already changed the energy market drastically in the 21st century, from the rapid decline in the cost of producing wind and solar power to the rise of microgrids and distributed energy resources to alternative fuel vehicles.
Keeping an open mind on how innovation will change the energy industry going forward leaves an open door for even more possibilities. Will abandoned fracking wells be repurposed for generating geothermal energy? Will thorium, a more abundant fuel than uranium, facilitate faster expansion of nuclear power plants? Will electric vehicles enable greater participation in electricity markets for home and building owners? Will pairing solar panel arrays with clean water generation technology make distributed solar generation more affordable and create new agricultural opportunities? Simply put, nobody knows how technological innovation will change the energy industry, and it’s best not to preemptively rule out future possibilities. It’s a better bet to let the market drive energy innovation forward to meet the energy needs of families and businesses.
When it comes to reducing emissions in a non-disruptive way, an “all of the above” energy strategy recognizes that, in a free market, numerous energy sources will likely have a part to play in reducing emissions. In an open, competitive market, each energy source’s advantages can be capitalized on while also leaving a light on for future industry innovations. By pursuing an “all of the above” energy strategy to make our energy more secure and affordable, we can also help make it cleaner.
Jakob Puckett is an energy analyst and a Young Voices contributor. Follow him on Twitter @jakobrpuckett.