The ideas behind dueling political sound bites like “drill, baby, drill” and “burn, baby, burn” do nothing to address America’s security issues related to dependence on foreign oil, according to a retired naval vice admiral and president of the American Council on Renewable Energy.
Speaking to more than 200 attendees Monday at the Savannah International Clean Energy Conference, Dennis McGinn said the time has come for citizens to demand elected officials “get beyond the politics and have a real discussion” about a comprehensive energy policy.
McGinn was among several speakers to advocate for a more “balanced and diversified portfolio” of energy resources during Monday’s forums at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. Industry leaders in nuclear, natural gas, biofuels, energy efficiency and grid level energy storage outlined the benefits of their approaches during the afternoon sessions.
“There is no silver bullet,” said McGinn, echoing the words of clean energy venture capitalist Chuck McDermott, who also spoke Monday, “but there is silver buckshot.”
Oil is among those pellets. Projections show recently discovered shale deposits could lead the U.S. to oil independence by “2030 or 2035,” according to Atlanta Gas Light CEO John Somerhalder, but the country would do well to continue to develop other energy resources.
“From a security standpoint, we need to get away from an overdependence on one or two sources of fuel,” Somerhalder said.
The dangers inherent in such a narrow approach cannot be overstated, said McGinn, the retired vice admiral. Americans spend more than $1 billion a day on petroleum products, making oil the “lifeblood of our economy.”
That $1 billion does not take into account the indirect costs, such as the government investment in the military that plays a large role in protecting that lifeblood as well as the health care costs tied to pollution.
The U.S. is particularly vulnerable when it comes to energy used for transportation, McGinn said. American utilities today use as much natural gas as coal to generate electricity but oil remains the overwhelming source in powering automobiles, trains and heavy equipment.
Natural gas is making significant strides as a transportation fuel, but officials must continue to look at biofuels, McGinn said. Internal combustion engines are going to continue to power vehicles for “many, many decades to come,” and increasing the percentage of biofuels in gasoline will make a difference.
Companies such as Dupont are developing biofuels that do not contain large amounts of water – the main drawback to ethanol because of the corrosiveness – and McGinn foresees a day when biofuels make up 30 percent of gas mix. Most gasoline is about 10 percent ethanol today.
Governments at the local, state and federal levels must support these alternative energy initiatives, several speakers insisted, and develop policies that allow for a “level playing field.”
“How many times do we need to have wake-up calls like the gas shortages we’re seeing with Hurricane Sandy or what we saw after Katrina before we get an energy policy?” McGinn said.