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The United States of America has a reputation for having an insatiable appetite for the rest of the world's energy. We drive big, gas-guzzling SUVs with just one passenger inside, think nothing of leaving the lights on around the house, and expect the rest of the world to provide this energy cheaply, so we don't have to start thinking about where it comes from.
But we now have increasing competition in energy gluttony, as the massive populations of India and China join the middle class. No matter how you slice it, energy is getting more expensive -- it's just a matter of how you want to play the trend.
If you think the days of $2-a-gallon gas will ever return, I have some swampland in Florida I'm willing to sell you.
China's auto sales grew 32% last year to 18.1 million units. That's great news for General Motors and Ford (NYSE: F ) , who are increasing sales in the country, but bad news for everyone buying gasoline. Oil is a global commodity, and even if we "drill, baby drill" off our own shores, it won't balance supply and demand.
Domestic oil play Kodiak Oil & Gas (AMEX: KOG ) should be able to capitalize on the higher prices as production ramps up. Positive production data, as well as the rising price of oil, has kept this stock on a roll over the last six months.
The other black gold: Coal
If you thought brownouts in California were bad during summer months, you may want to stay away from China for the next few months. The fast-growing country is having trouble keeping up with power demands, and it may fall a whopping 30 gigawatts short of demands this summer. The country's overall electricity demand is projected to increase 12% to 4.7 billion megawatt-hours. To put that in some physical perspective, that increase would require China to install 109,348 1.5-megawatt wind turbines to keep up with demand.
While the U.S. and even China talk about reducing the greenhouse gasses that coal emits, coal powers one of the only kinds of electric plants that can be built quickly enough to meet demand right now. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, alternative energy will be able to pick up the slack. For now, coal is the best we've got.
Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that hedge funds had increased their bullish bets on natural gas over the last three months. That's no surprise, with everyone trying to find alternatives to oil and new nuclear power generation all but on its deathbed. If it weren't for the potential to increase supply domestically, I would say that natural gas couldn't go anywhere but up.
ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and Chesesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) are the No. 1 and No. 2 producers of natural gas in the U.S., respectively. If natural gas prices go higher, as hedge funds expect, shareholders should cash in on the run-up.
But the exciting development in natural gas is happening in the transportation sector. Clean Energy Fuels (Nasdaq: CLNE ) is building a fueling infrastructure throughout the country for buses, trucks, and passenger vehicles. Compared to oil, natural gas is cleaner, cheaper, and can be produced domestically. With transit authorities already making the switch, could your vehicle be far behind?
The Foolish bottom line
Unless China, India, and the U.S. go into another massive recession, energy demand will only increase over the next 10 years. That means prices of oil, coal, and natural gas will likely keep climbing. What do you think is the best way to invest in higher energy prices? Let us know in the comments below.
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