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[ October 18, 2001 ]

By Seth Dunn, Research Associate Worldwatch Institute

The tragic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the subsequent military response, have raised thorny questions about U.S. energy policy. How does oil import dependence factor into the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia -a major grievance of radical Islamic fundamentalists? How might continued heavy reliance on imported Middle Eastern petroleum complicate American efforts to eradicate terrorism from the region? Are nuclear power plants potential targets of future terrorist attacks?

While there are no easy answers to questions such as these, it is clear that the existing energy and power infrastructure in the United States exhibits several vulnerabilities. These include the risk of disruption of oil supply from politically volatile regions, the danger of electricity outages if power plants are targeted, and the risk of exposure to nuclear plant accidents.

The good news is that two long-term trends underway in the world's electricity and energy systems-toward micropower and hydrogen -can help to lessen these vulnerabilities.

Micropower, or distributed generation, limits the risk of disrupted power supplies. Terrorists would have great difficulty targeting hundreds of dispersed fuel cells or solar panels in office basements and backyards and on rooftops. Hydrogen, the lightest and most abundant element in the universe, is increasingly viewed by industry as the ultimate energy carrier.

The enabling technology for hydrogen is the fuel cell, which combines hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity and water. Fuel cells are now being vigorously developed as successors to batteries, power plants, and the internal combustion engine. Derived first from natural gas and later from renewable energy, hydrogen promises a clean, domestic source of energy that can lessen oil dependence.

Although the trend toward micropower and hydrogen was underway prior to September 11, these events-and the difficulties encountered in responding to them-illustrate the consequences of not engaging in a more concerted public policy effort to accelerate the introduction of these promising energy solutions. Indeed, they strengthen the case for an Apollo-scale effort to develop an infrastructure for producing, delivering, and using hydrogen. While there are costs in building a hydrogen economy, they must be weighed against the risk of continuing to rely on oil imports from the Middle East-which holds more than 65 percent of the world's proven petroleum reserves.

In addition to improving energy security, a micropower-hydrogen energy system could bring energy services to the 1.8 billion poor people around the world who lack access to modern energy-a common source of social unrest in many parts. It could also alleviate urban air pollution problems and lay the groundwork for a low-carbon, climate-benign energy economy. And a micropower-hydrogen energy system presents enormous economic opportunities for forward-looking companies and countries that see the strategic advantage of switching to new energy sources-as did Winston Churchill, when he switched the British navy from coal to oil during the First World War.

Links to Worldwatch resources on alternative energy:

For further information, please contact Niki Clark, 202-452-1992 x 517, nclark@worldwatch.org The Worldwatch Institute web site is at http://www.worldwatch.org

Copyright notice:
This article may be copied, used on web sites, or otherwise reproduced without charge providing that the user include the address of the Worldwatch web site http://www.worldwatch.org and attribute the article to the Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20036.

Worldwatch Institute 1776 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
telephone: 202 452-1999 fax: 202 296-7365
e-mail worldwatch@worldwatch.org or visit our website http://www.worldwatch.org

The Worldwatch Institute is a nonprofit research organization that analyzes global environmental and development issues. To contact Worldwatch directly, send email to worldwatch@worldwatch.org

 Related Features

Nova Scotia's New Energy Strategy will incorporate renewable energy into the mix. Have your say and read comments from other Nova Scotians. We all have a vested interest, so get involved.

News Release: June 25, 2001.
NS Power to purchase 50 megawatts of wind power from independent producers.

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Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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