On Tuesday, March 24, the Greater Houston Partnership held an interesting event titled “America’s Energy Future: Assessing Our Paths to Energy Security,” which took place at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Discussions in the course of the day addressed a number of topics, including potential solutions to supply and demand challenges, infrastructure issues, the role of technology, and energy policy in the US. One of the more spirited exchanges of the day took place in the final panel discussion, “The Future of Federal Energy Policy.” The panel, moderated by Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor and President of the University of Houston, included: • Dr. Daniel Sperling, board member of the California Air Resources Board and founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis • Amy Myers Jaffe, Wallace Associate Director for the Rice Energy Program at Rice University • Clarence P. Cazalot Jr., President and CEO of Marathon Oil • Steve Winn, CEO of Nuclear Innovation, NRG • Paul P. Bollinger Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Partnerships. According to polls cited by the Partnership, Americans overwhelmingly support energy independence, but at present, there is no clear idea of how America will reach that goal, when it will be achieved, or what technology will lead the way. There is a lot of money being allocated to energy efficiency and conservation, new technology, and new infrastructure. That investment, according to Cazalot, is necessary. “We need to move off our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. The big challenge at present, however, is that the idea of moving away from “dependence on foreign oil” is rapidly becoming a move from dependence on oil – period. Moving away from the use of hydrocarbons for energy, Cazalot said, is an enormous challenge. The transition is one of the most difficult the nation has ever undertaken. “Much of the emphasis is on new sources of energy,” he said, but there needs to be more focus on conventional sources, including coal, gas, and oil. “We as a nation – we as a world – can’t get by without this transition,” Cazalot said, but people expect seamlessness, which is not going to be easy. There has to be a comprehensive solution, and there has to be certainly of supply. “We need to design a bridge from where we are today to our energy future,” he said. “You can’t do this helter-skelter. And oil and gas is a key part of our future.” According to Amy Jaffe, “Energy conservation is the first step.” If conservation policies were put in place, the country could cut consumption by a significant amount. To reach our goals successfully as a country, though, there has to be flexibility in electrical power generation. The best way to get to that point, Jaffe said, would be to have the same sort of competition of technologies in the power generation sector as exists in the country’s transportation system. Dr. Sperling seconded Jaffe’s point on conservation. “There is not an appreciation of the urgency and importance of reducing consumption.” Sperling followed this statement with his views about cutting carbon emissions, noting that one of the primary ingredients for success is creativity. “The single most important policy is the low-carbon fuel standard,” he said. Though it legislates reduced carbon emission, it is not prescriptive. It gives industry the freedom to figure out how best to meet the standard. Nuclear power might well be part of the solution to reduced carbon emissions. “Nuclear plants produce no carbon,” Steve Winn explained. That point is significant, and it is certainly one of the reasons behind Department of Energy loans that will fund immediate plans for building new nuclear power generation plants. One of these new plants in the wave of new construction has been proposed for the Houston area, Winn said, noting that he expects construction across the board to be rapid because of the “cookie cutter” approach that will be taken in building the new reactors. According to Paul Bollinger the US Army is actively working on every front for energy security. The Army will be “the point of the spear” aimed at this goal, he said. Today, the Department of Defense is the largest single purchaser of fuel in the US, Bollinger said, with the Air Force using 2.5 billion gallons of fuel each year and the Army consuming 600 million gallons. According to Bollinger, the Army is working to diversify its fuel supply much as it invests in a broad arsenal. “You wouldn’t have just one weapon,” he said, explaining that it is equally foolhardy to rely on a single fuel. The Army is already investing in diverse energy supplies, including renewable fuels. The objective of this move is to reverse the Army’s fuel dependence and to produce fuel instead. “The Army proposes to be a net energy exporter in 15 years.” The most conspicuous point to come out of this panel discussion is that individual groups within the country are approaching the concept of energy security from very different places. Though they think about energy differently, however, they are all working toward the same goal. If they can find a way to build Cazalot’s “bridge,” there is every reason to be optimistic that they will succeed.