Consumers don't have to wait for any kind of consensus between Republicans and Democrats, or fossil fuel advocates and environmentalists, to help the United States move toward energy independence.
“Consumers can make a big difference through their use of more efficient vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, improving the energy efficiency of their homes and switching to green power, which many utilities now offer,” said clean energy consultant Alan Nogee.
While conservation efforts can cut costs for individual consumers, the collective savings can be much greater.
If each of the nearly 194 million licensed drivers in the United States cut back on fuel consumption, fewer oil imports would be needed. When consumers use less electricity, utility companies will need to build fewer power plants.
Nogee said everyone will benefit if utility companies switch to renewable energy sources in the future, with wind, solar and other resources poised to provide more of the country's electricity needs.
“The vast majority of Americans support renewable energy, but still have a long way to go to appreciate the full potential that renewable energy can play,” he said.
Economist Steve Agee, dean of Oklahoma City University's Meinders School of Business, said self interest is usually the biggest motivating factor for someone to decide whether to trim their use of fossil fuel.
“When prices get high for energy like gasoline or diesel or natural gas, we react to that. We either use less of it or we switch to some other form of transportation or we moderate our behavior. People typically do that whenever they need to,” Agee said. “The biggest factor that can affect our energy supply and demand situation in the United States is efficiency.
“More than anything else, if we can improve efficiency, we can become energy independent. If we individually and then collectively watched our consumption of energy and made ourselves more energy efficient, we could do that.”