This NRO author has an interesting column today on America's "Oil Addiction" and the use of alternative fuels. It mostly discusses polling and funding numbers, there are some interesting things to take away from it.
The limitations of the new energy sources is, to me, a very important and too unnoticed fact. When politicians talk about energy policy, they always mention more funding for energy research. This is fine. In fact, I'm very enthusiastic about funding scientific research. I wish the private industry did more of it, but there's never a problem with more science.
How many of these, though, will be permanent solutions? For example, solar power is a cool thought, but will it ever permanently replace coal or nuclear power plants? One of the professors at Northwestern who researches solar cells discussed their application during our orientation, specifically discussing surface areas needed based on the efficiencies of the materials and the electricity needs. I can't recall exactly how it went, but suffice it to say that even with 100% efficiency (which is impossible), very large tracts of land would be needed for solar cells to account for a large portion of our energy needs. Combine that with their frailty and the fickleness of the weather and it seems unlikely that solar cells will ever do more than supplement our electricity supply.
That conclusion seems to apply to most of these alternatives, at least as things currently stand.
I become discouraged because very few politicians have any short-term plans for energy policy. Yes, research is important, but there haven't been any breakthroughs just yet. Most of the alternative fuel sources, whether we're discussing automobile fuel or sources of electricity to replace power plants, if they become feasible, won't be implemented on a wide scale for many, many years. Possibly decades, even. Let's say that it's 20 years from today that we'll have an applicable technology that can counter gasoline burning automobiles. What do we do in the meantime?
Rising global demand is a large part of the soaring oil prices (along with the ever looming threat of war in the Middle East). Since everyone in America won't switch over to electric or hydrogen cars by tomorrow, what kind of solutions will help in the meantime? Higher supplies would drive down prices. Some people want to see the prices go even higher to discourage use, but that would only hurt those who can least afford higher prices in the first place.
Take note, politicians: As glad as I am that you do/will fund energy research, what else do you have in your energy policy? We need solutions that will help within the next ten years.