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A merican society, with a standard of living unprecedented in human history, can attribute a large measure of its success to increasingly sophisticated uses of energy. The strength of industry, the speed of transportation, the myriad comforts and conveniences of home and workplace, and the security of the nation all derive from ever more ingenious provision and application of various sources and forms of energy. 2
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The world at night. But that of times faster condition has come than they are at a cost—to irreplaceable formed, a situation that cannot resources, to the environment, and to our continue indeﬁnitely. Eventually we must devise national independence. Society has begun to ways to keep resources and consumption in question the methods we use to power modern sustainable equilibrium. Addressing the issue of life and to search for better alternatives. As the sustainable resources in a nation that gets 85% nationwide debate continues, it is already evident of its total energy from oil, coal, and gas is a that managing energy use wisely in the 21st formidable goal, but one that we must pursue century will call for balancing three essential, but rigorously. quite different, concerns: resources, responsibility, and security. RESPONSIBILITY The combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon RESOURCES dioxide (a major “greenhouse” gas) into the Our appetite for energy appears boundless, but atmosphere, and most climate scientists believe traditional supplies are not. We are depleting that the buildup of those gases is the primary the planet’s ﬁnite stores of fossil fuels millions cause of global warming in recent decades. 3
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Moreover, many uses of fossil fuels, as well as the use of domestic resources. This is a difﬁcult their extraction from the earth, contribute to objective and will likely require many years to air pollution and can cause severe damage to address thoroughly. our health and the environment. Responsible stewardship of our planet demands that we ﬁnd Meeting all three of these energy concerns will new ways to minimize or eliminate those effects. be a long-term process with unknown outcomes. That goal appears attainable, and considerable Fortunately, both public and private organiza- progress is already evident. tions continue to support substantial energy research. There is also growing technical and ﬁnancial interest in renewable and sustainable SECURITY Our society relies on energy that is available when and where it is needed, is generally affordable at stable prices, and can be counted on in the near future. Yet we are dependent on foreign sources for two-thirds of our petroleum supplies as well as many other resources, and the world is an uncertain place. As a result, access to some critical energy sources is beyond our control. Many planners argue that this situation threatens the economic and military security of the nation and urge policies that maximize 4
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sources—such as advanced nuclear power, wind Meanwhile, as national and international debate power, solar power, and certain biofuels—and in on energy grows more intense, Americans technologies that minimize carbon dioxide emis- increasingly need dependable, objective, and sions and capture the gases in storage areas authoritative energy information. We hope this where they cannot reach the atmosphere. booklet is a step in that direction. In its role as adviser on science and technology policy matters Such efforts are especially consequential as to the federal government, the National Research worldwide consumption trends put increasing Council has conducted numerous studies on the pressure on traditional energy sources. In the topic of energy. Additional studies are in process. United States alone, energy consumption is The information in this booklet draws on that projected to rise 20% above present levels over body of material and on other sources in order to the next two decades. Worldwide demand is offer a basic toolkit of facts and concepts to use in forecast to nearly double by 2030. Much of that assessing various energy claims and proposals. growth will be in developing nations—most (See a complete list of the Research Council’s notably China and India, which between them relevant reports on page 31.) contain more than one-third of the planet’s people—creating unprecedented competition This overview begins with a description of for limited conventional resources. the status of energy in 21st-century America, including the main sources of energy used in the Whatever happens, three developments are United States and a survey of the nation’s energy certain. First, fossil fuels will be a major part of demand versus the world’s available supply. Then the world’s energy portfolio for decades to come it looks ahead to the quest for greater energy because no single technology will provide all of efﬁciency and emerging technologies. Along the tomorrow’s energy and because it takes time way it addresses how social concerns inﬂuence and money to change the distribution and our choice of energy options and how those consumption patterns of large populations. options affect our everyday lives. The goal of Second, invention and development of more this booklet is to present an accurate picture of cost-effective, low-carbon energy sources will America’s current and projected energy needs become progressively more urgent. And third, and to describe options that are likely to play a bringing those new technologies to market in signiﬁcant role in our energy future. No one can convenient and affordable forms will pose a afford to remain uninformed about the energy challenge even more daunting than the research future because we all have a stake in its outcome. itself. 5