When teaching the geopolitics of energy to students, I often start by debunking the myths that we can control the price of fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) and that we can produce enough of it here in the United States to be “energy independent.” There are many reasons for why these are myths—but most importantly is the fact that supply and demand dictate the global market, compounded by America’s continued rise in consumption beyond what we produce at home.
As long as the United States relies on the globally priced market in any significant way, our country remains subject to the same potential price volatility as virtually every other nation, and as equally energy “dependent” as the rest.
However, in contrast to unpredictable global fossil fuel markets, real progress has been achieved in making American renewable energy cheaper and more reliable in recent years. Utility-scale wind and solar power are now 66 and 85 percent cheaper, respectively, than in 2009, and the two technologies made up 60 percent of the new electricity capacity additions in the United States last year.
With long-term, fixed-rate contracts, wind and solar are becoming increasingly attractive to large energy users such as tech companies, manufacturers, state and city governments, and the military. It’s this combination of low-cost and price certainty that leads experts to predict that renewable sources of energy, along with natural gas, will dominate the future of the U.S. power markets through the mid-century.
Despite this progress, some of America’s leaders remain skeptical of the benefits of renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has announced that it plans to study the impacts of the increased use of renewable power on grid reliability. In subsequent comments, DoE Secretary Rick Perry expressed additional concerns that using less coal and nuclear power might impact “national security.”
My research has focused on the U.S. military’s efforts to develop more reliable sources of energy beyond oil for the battlefield and bases. I have concluded that improving the availability of renewable energy only adds to our national security by strengthening mobility in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq. The availability of multiple energy sources also enhances the security of military bases worldwide against cyber or other attacks.
The U.S. military, which has made a commitment to generate 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, is increasingly relying on solar microgrids for their bases to ensure diversity of energy supply. Military bases such as Fort Hood in Texas are using innovative combinations of offsite power purchase agreements with wind projects and on-site solar installations to ensure that they have clean, low-cost, reliable power.
It would seem obvious that the more wind, solar, and other renewable resources generated on the U.S. grid, the less we are relying on globally priced fossil fuels to determine our electricity prices. And reducing this dependence not only protects the U.S. electricity markets from volatility, it also has significant economic benefits for the communities where renewable projects are developed.
North Dakota has particularly benefitted from wind power development, attracting over $5 billion in new investment. Because of the development, over 21 percent of the electricity generated in state last year came from wind. And much of that wind power feeds into the Southwest Power Pool, which managed to meet 52.1 percent of the total regional demand with wind power alone on February 12 this year—a new record.
This real-world experience is also backed by recent analyses by well-respected independent groups such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), Brattle, and the Analysis Group, which have confirmed that adding more renewable sources of energy provide diversity and flexibility to our modern energy system is not negatively impacting reliability.
In short, although the functioning of global energy markets has not drastically changed, what has is the cost and reliability of renewable energy. And it is time for the United States to follow the lead of our military leaders and move past the outdated notion that fossil fuels are required to reliably power our electricity needs and embrace the economic and reliability benefits that renewable sources can provide.
Stacy Closson is a former U.S. Department of Defense political military analyst and professor of diplomacy. She is a Fellow with Truman National Security Project and resides in Bismarck, North Dakota, with her family. Views expressed are her own.
The original article was posted here.