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Energy independence

For more than 40 years, the United States has had the goal of becoming energy independent. But for most of those years, the U.S. has gone the other way and become more energy dependent on other countries. Has the tide finally been shifting? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“Well, the latest calculation … that we have for 2011 shows that we are now 83 percent energy independent, meaning we’re getting 83 percent of our energy that we use in the country from domestic sources. And this is up from 74 percent in 2008. So, we’ve made a significant gain of almost 10 percentage points in just the last three years.

“And I think there are several reasons for this: One, and a lot of people know this, we have seen a dramatic increase in domestic energy production. For example, oil production using new technologies has begun to rise very, very rapidly, and we’re also accessing more of our natural gas resources. That’s also increasing very, very rapidly.

“Another reason clearly has to do, however, with the slow economy — the recession, slow recovery from the recession — and that those factors have really made us more frugal users of energy. For example, people are not driving as much as they use to. And so our energy consumption, in some sense, per capita has been going down. So, this may be a short-run phenomenon. As the economy grows faster we may see our energy independence slip.

“On the other hand, we may see an explosion, if you will, in new sources of energy as we move into other areas like solar and wind, et cetera. So, I think the energy sector is really wide open for some major changes in the coming years.”


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