How the availability of rare elements is affecting the future of solar photovoltaics
Meeting the world's growing demand for energy, minimizing related impacts on the environment and reducing the potential geopolitical tensions associated with increased competition for energy supplies represent some of the greatest technical and policy challenges of the next several decades.
Meeting these global energy and environmental challenges requires a multidisciplinary systems approach that integrates policy design and technology development to address a range of complicated and difficult problems.
Fossil fuels supply more than 80 percent of the world's primary energy but they are finite resources and major contributors to global climate change. The ways and means for their ultimate replacement with clean, affordable and sustainable energy sources at the scale required to power the world are not yet fully obvious, readily available or, in many instances, technically feasible. Also, these alternative sources are not all benign and their impacts on the environment, particularly when deployed at scale, are not fully understood.
Further, existing energy infrastructures in the United States and around the world are complex and very large, represent enormous capital investment and have operational life spans of 50 years or more.
Wholesale or even piecemeal replacement of these infrastructures will be costly, will take time and will be frequently resisted by entrenched interests. In addition, the local, regional and global impacts of climate change require unique understanding of the scientific and technical underpinnings of the problems in order to formulate informed and timely responses at unprecedented national and international levels.
Meeting dramatic increases in energy demand, particularly in the developing world, will compound these problems at the same time that it enables opportunities for enhanced national stability, economic development and improved quality of life.
The coordination of policy, regulation and technology development is critical if we are to meet the energy, environmental, and security imperatives of the 21st century. It is essential that we base our energy policy, regulatory and diplomatic decisions and actions on the strongest, most informed and integrated scientific, economic and social analysis to:
- Avoid or minimize the stranding of assets.
- Optimize the investment of scarce research dollars.
- Minimize potential economic dislocation during the transition to a sustainable energy future.
- Preserve the fundamental and desirable drivers and aspects of free markets by internalizing public goods such as enhanced security and environmental stewardship.
- Reduce geopolitical tensions associated with competition for scarce resources.
- Maximize the opportunities for successful transformation of global energy systems.