sources—such as advanced nuclear power, wind power, solar power, and certain biofuels—and in technologies that minimize carbon dioxide emissions and capture the gases in storage areas where they cannot reach the atmosphere.
Such efforts are especially consequential as worldwide consumption trends put increasing pressure on traditional energy sources. In the United States alone, energy consumption is projected to rise 20% above present levels over the next two decades. Worldwide demand is forecast to nearly double by 2030. Much of that growth will be in developing nations—most notably China and India, which between them contain more than one-third of the planet’s people—creating unprecedented competition for limited conventional resources.
Whatever happens, three developments are certain. First, fossil fuels will be a major part of the world’s energy portfolio for decades to come because no single technology will provide all of tomorrow’s energy and because it takes time and money to change the distribution and consumption patterns of large populations. Second, invention and development of more cost-effective, low-carbon energy sources will become progressively more urgent. And third, bringing those new technologies to market in convenient and affordable forms will pose a challenge even more daunting than the research itself.
Meanwhile, as national and international debate on energy grows more intense, Americans increasingly need dependable, objective, and authoritative energy information. We hope this booklet is a step in that direction. In its role as adviser on science and technology policy matters to the federal government, the National Research Council has conducted numerous studies on the topic of energy. Additional studies are in process. The information in this booklet draws on that body of material and on other sources in order to offer a basic toolkit of facts and concepts to use in assessing various energy claims and proposals. (See a complete list of the Research Council’s relevant reports on page 31.)
This overview begins with a description of the status of energy in 21st-century America, including the main sources of energy used in the United States and a survey of the nation’s energy demand versus the world’s available supply. Then it looks ahead to the quest for greater energy efficiency and emerging technologies. Along the way it addresses how social concerns influence our choice of energy options and how those options affect our everyday lives. The goal of this booklet is to present an accurate picture of America’s current and projected energy needs and to describe options that are likely to play a significant role in our energy future. No one can afford to remain uninformed about the energy future because we all have a stake in its outcome.