The technologies described in this overview and summary can help to create a more secure and sustainable U.S. energy system. The scenarios explored assume a national willingness to encourage efforts to accelerate deployment. To achieve this potential will require that the public and private sectors carry out extensive research, development, and demonstration of many of these technologies within the next decade, particularly in the areas of carbon capture and storage, evolutionary nuclear plants, and cellulosic ethanol conversion. For electricity in particular, the United States has many promising new possibilities for production and distribution to exploit during the next two to three decades; many of these rely on newer technologies being deployed at required scales. To make the necessary advances, industry and the government must adopt a portfolio approach to developing and deploying new technologies. Mixed strategies are required to ensure staged development and deployment within a particular mode of production as well as progress in a mix of approaches.
A number of barriers are likely to delay deployment, especially given that many new sources of energy will be more expensive than current sources are. Policy and regulations, however, can help overcome some of these obstacles. National leaders have long been interested in improving the country’s energy system, although most efforts have been piecemeal. The United States has never adopted a comprehensive national energy policy to meet goals for sustainability, economic prosperity, security, and environmental quality. It was the AEF Committee’s judgment that comprehensive and sustained national policies for energy production and use will be needed to achieve a timely transformation to the more sustainable, secure, and environmentally benign energy system envisioned in America’s Energy Future: Technology and Transformation.
Even with the most enlightened policies, the overall U.S. energy enterprise will be slow to change. Its complex mix of scientific, technical, economic, social, and political elements means that transformational change will be an immense undertaking, requiring decades to complete. Because of this long timeline and the sense of urgency about addressing energy security and climate change, and securing affordable sources of energy, it is essential that we begin now to set the foundation for America’s energy future.