Think energy in the U.S. - and you immediately think of oil.
Since its discovery in the 1840s by Samuel Keir, a Pennsylvanian salt miner, oil has been an integral part of the development of the U.S.
In the years that followed Keir's discovery of oil contaminating his salt, various attempts were made to collect and break up the oil. In 1854, George Bissell finally managed to distil a sample into kerosene.
Bissell set up the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company in 1855, started drilling on sites around Titusville, Pennsylvania (which came to be known as Oil Creek) and on August 27, 1859, struck oil.
The first oil well in the United States was 69 feet deep and yielded 15 barrels a day.
Oil takes off
Since this time, oil has been discovered all over the United States – from Texas to Alaska.
Today, the U.S. is one of top importers and exporters of oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), we imported about 9.14 million barrels per day (MMb/d) of petroleum from about 90 countries last year. Petroleum includes crude oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel fuel, and biofuels.
On the other hand, we exported about 8.47 MMb/d of petroleum to about 190 countries and four U.S. territories.
The long standing question is why import oil if we are producing our own?
It really has a lot to do with the quality of our oil, origin, and destination but the cost of import.
Oil brings with it environmental and, quite frankly, physical dangers. The Torrey Canyon and Exxon Valdez disasters prove that.
Oil was also discovered to be responsible for the phenomenon of global warming, along with coal and other hydrocarbon emissions.
Pollution was seen as a significant problem globally – but, except for California, the U.S. did not really take emission standards and environmental issues seriously.
In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. This set out the importance of the United States securing all of its energy sources internally, rather than having to rely on risky foreign sources for oil.
The act gave the green light for:
- the development of electric drive motor vehicles
- advanced battery loan guarantees
- advanced technology vehicles manufacturing incentives
- carbon credit schemes
- biodiesel development
- algal biomass and natural gas research
energy savings through improved standards for appliances and lighting
accelerated research and development for thermal energy storage, solar energy, photovoltaic cells, and hydrothermal and maritime research.
Solar panels, solar water heaters, more powerful batteries, wind farms, wave machines, and electric vehicles, have all altered the landscape of energy supply forever.
In fact, in 2019, U.S. annual energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time since before 1885 by .2 quadrillion thermal unit, according to the EIA.
This trend is expected to continue as new policies and systems are put in place to support renewables. The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provides a tax benefit for solar power use, the EIC which provides comprehensive data on U.S. energy markets, and others.
These policies are spurring states into action. California is to use 100 percent renewables by 2045. New York state aims to use 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. Seattle plans to achieve 30 percent EV adoption by 2030 and have a 100 percent electric municipal fleet by 2030.
This is just the beginning.
Silver is the new oil
A major component in the most sophisticated of these technologies producing renewable energy is silver.
Silver is the best conductor of electricity. The beauty of silver is that technology has so far failed to replace it with an alternative. No known material matches silver for its energy output and conductivity per dollar.
It is still relatively cheap too.
One of the largest silver mines in the world is based in Nevada - indeed Nevada is known as “The Silver State” after silver was discovered there in the mid 1800s. Silver just lay on the surface of the desert.
Of course all of that is long gone and mining is a mix of underground and opencast these days. There are 24 metal mines in the state - the largest of which is Hycroft mine, which produces 1.82 million ounces annually, as a by-product of its gold mining operations.
This means that in terms of security, the United States is self-sufficient in the silver needed to produce the solar arrays, circuitry and other components of green energy equipment.
The other aspect of this is the issue of patents in the renewable energy field to protect the intellectual property involved in the design of innovations and ideas.
The United States Patent and Trademarking Office has 20 percent of the world patents applications for renewable energy related products and inventions.
Of the 200,000+ patents in the area of renewable energy, there are only a few key ones - but it should be noted that there has been more than a fivefold increase in renewable energy area patents in the last two decades – and this shows no sign of slowing.
It seems that renewable energy will be something that the United States can excel at and have a homegrown expertise in, going forward.
A combination of world beating design, engineering, production facilities, and abundant raw materials are the perfect storm for a renewable bonanza.
But we don’t have enough
Zoltan Ban, economist, anthropologist, and contributor to Seeking Alpha, estimated that even if the efficiency of silver quadrupled, the world will still not have enough silver to supply the world’s energy needs.
Ban’s conservative estimate states that we would need 5.62 million tons of silver.
The world's current known official silver reserves that can be assumed to be recoverable from mines is estimated to be less than 600,000 tons.
We can figure in all of the 1.5 million tons of silver that were produced throughout history. Let’s be generous and say that all of that can be diverted to solar energy, never mind the jewelry industry, electronic industry including cellphone, computers, and servers. Never mind the silver objects that qualify as antiques or historical artifacts. Let’s just assume some extreme measure is to be taken and all of the world’s silver is to be used for solar energy. That is still worlds away from the 5.63 million tons of silver we need.
We also need to consider that solar panels have a loss of efficiency rate ranging from .2-1% per year, depending on a number of factors, including climate conditions. Assuming an average loss of .5% per year, we would need an additional 7,000 tons of silver per year in order to install more panels.
Silver is the future
Silver has a great future as an industrial metal and as an investment.
First, because demand is overtaking supply… fast. Aside from solar panels, silver is found in a large number of electronic products. It also has growing potential in water purification technologies, in welding applications, medical technology and so on.
Second, America needs it. We’ve wasted so much money and so much of our resources importing oil – it only increased our dependence on other regions and endangered our country.