Alternative Energy: a Reality, Not a Choice

Two years after the BPGulf of Mexico disaster, a legal settlement has yet to be approved by a court.

Four years after gasoline prices touched $4 per gallon, prices are flirting with a record high again.

For proponents of alternative energy, it's easy to make a case about the downside of crude oil.

But it's also difficult to make a case for a viable, long-term replacement, even when the nation's natural gas reserves are estimated to hold a 100-year supply.

No wonder, then, that U.S. energy policy is criticized by some for being inconsistent and short-sighted, often the product of industry lobbying and political fancy.

At the same time, there's little agreement on what that policy should be.

In a way, there are too many options but no single solution to the energy problem.

The current alternative energies — solar, wind, biofuels, nuclear, and geothermal — all have limitations, but they're worth developing until something better comes along.

Even natural gas for all its bounty has limitations: Though appropriate for industrial and residential power generation, it's impractical for automobiles.

For now, we need every alternative energy that's cost competitive and efficient. Cold fusion —at one point the be-all, end-all solution — is still stuck in the lab.

As our special report series "Better Your Business"shows, success in the global economy is as much about new applications as it is about new ideas and new investment.

Alternative energy is about all those things — including the environment.

Biofuels have evolved from corn- or soy-based ethanol to algae and even synthetic compositions. Solar cells are on more and more residential roofs and are moving to the farm. Wind power is now land- and sea-based. Crude oil is transported in double-hull tankers. And that BP oil spill was partially cleaned up through biotechnology.