Page 112

resources of the planet in a one-time use without any accountability to future generations and our environment. We must try to look ahead, envision a future society, give it a voice, and use this to point out those issues that would clearly affect future lives. To consume a resource without developing a replacement is clearly an issue that will affect future generations.

The author's perspective in writing this article include the following:

  • To modify an existing energy infrastructure or build a new energy infrastructure requires money and energy—energy that must come from existing resources.

  • Advanced renewable energy systems can provide long-term benefits to society—namely, sustainability.

  • Manufacturing renewable energy systems for the developing world provides an economic benefit to the United States because a very large portion of the energy demand will occur in these regions. The points to consider here are the following:

      1. What is the market for renewable technologies versus sequestration technologies?

      2. Distributed generation that uses indigenous local resources reduces the need to build and maintain large electrical grids.


Our current energy and transportation infrastructure is plagued by many problems. It pollutes and damages our environment, it makes us dependent on foreign governments for more than 50% of our supply, and the trade deficit resulting from our oil purchases (at more than $1 billion per week) has a destabilizing effect on our economy. In addition, we must maintain an enhanced military presence in the Middle East to keep our access to this oil, which puts our military at risk. If we implement large-scale sequestration, it solves only the environmental issue, but the rest of the problems are actually exacerbated—we will have to burn more fossil fuel in order to generate the additional energy needed to power the sequestration systems to remove the CO2 that our fossil fuel systems generate. This means importing more oil (increasing our trade deficit) or burning our own reserves at a faster rate.

Sequestration is only a temporary fix; eventually we will have to replace fossil fuels. Since we have technologies that will “do the job,” we should implement a sustainable energy infrastructure that doesn't emit carbon dioxide and can supply all our energy needs using our indigenous resources. Renewable technologies also have the ability to expand as our usage of and needs for energy grow. Furthermore, renewable energy systems can be configured to supply not only all the electrical needs, but also all our transportation requirements.

The United States can spend its money and energy resources building sequestration systems or implementing renewable energy technologies; it is not likely that we can or will do both. The first part of this chapter therefore discusses the vision and possibilities of renewable energy such that the reader will be convinced of the viability of this approach. In the second part, a general list of research areas is presented. Because it would be impossible to cover all of the associated technologies fully, the author has chosen to present those technologies he feels could have an impact in the immediate to 10-year time frame.


We first address the question, Can we really supply all our energy needs from renewable energy? The power of renewable energy can easily be shown using the United States as an example.1 The United

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement