Energy independence is a "straw man" in this country, with political and financial pundits tossing the term around despite the fact that there are no real plans to get there. However, we could get there if we start to rethink our energy dependencies. And, in this regard, France is a model citizen.
Just say no
France has decided that it wants nothing to do with fracking, a drilling method that has materially increased the amount of recoverable oil and natural gas in the United States. It can make that choice because it generates the vast majority of its electricity from nuclear power. The decision to ignore a transformational drilling method shows the freedom that energy choice allowed.
Interestingly, the need for energy diversification is also highlighted by France. Saying no to fracking is well and good so long as nuclear fuel is abundant and cost effective. Uranium miner Cameco (NYSE:CCJ) doesn't paint such a rosy picture on that front.
There are over 90 new nuclear plants either being built or on the drawing board around the world. Cameco expects this new demand to outstrip current supply. And it believes new mines will need to be brought on line.
Cameco is positioning itself for the demand it foresees with plans to increase production by around 60% by 2018. If uranium costs skyrocket, Cameco will make out like a bandit. France, meanwhile, would feel the pinch of rising electricity costs.
Bigger country, bigger energy needs
That's why using one power source isn't feasible in the United States; a collection of energy sources is necessary to provide for a nation of our size. Luckily we have such a collection, including nuclear, natural gas, renewable energy, and, yes, coal. Everything needs to be on the table.
For example, there's no doubt that old and inefficient coal plants should be shuttered. However, efforts like Southern Company (NYSE:SO) building a next generation coal plant featuring carbon capture technology should be pushed.
Southern Company's Kemper plant is the first large scale implementation of that technology. Once complete, it will provide Southern with decades of environmentally friendly coal power. And it is the type of project that could get the country closer to energy independence.
However, that won't happen without other changes, too. For example, Covanta (NYSE:CVA) has 41 U.S. electric plants that burn trash. It's entire fleet, which includes a few foreign plants, produces just 1,500 megawatts of electricity. That's tiny, but it shows how rethinking our resources, or refuse, can lead to big things.
The big shift
All of the focus on generating electricity, even if it borders on recycling as does Covanta's business, belies the fact that oil is probably the biggest U.S. issue. However, avoiding a wholesale switch to natural gas for electricity would support a shift to natural gas on the country's highways.
That's the future Clean Energy (NASDAQ:CLNE) is working to create. The company has already made inroads with local fleet vehicles like garbage trucks. Now, it is working on the country's long-haul truckers. It's built natural gas fueling stations across the interstate highway system to tap into what it believes is a $25 billion market opportunity.
Building that infrastructure, however, has been costly. That's why Clean Energy is losing money. But as Southern Company's Kemper cost overruns validate, a technology shift can be expensive to get off the ground. That's why everything, including Covanta reusing our refuse for power, needs to be on the table from day one.
The United States probably won't stop importing energy, but it has the resources to make those imports much less important. Companies like Southern, Clean Energy, and Covanta, are working to make the best use of what we have in-house. If we open our minds and push the technology envelope, energy independence could be more than just words.
Reuben Brewer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Clean Energy Fuels and Southern Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.