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.
Maximizing current sources of energy through increased supply and more efficient technologies, enhancing security of supply and minimizing environmental impacts are critical and will require new and innovative approaches to the production, distribution and end use of conventional sources of energy as we transition to more sustainable energy supplies.
Fossil fuels currently 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, even technically feasible.
Nuclear power, while a conventional source of energy, represents a possible option for meeting long-term future energy needs on a large scale if technical and policy issues can be resolved. In addition, 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 and will take decades.
During this transition period, it is essential that we base our energy policy, regulation and diplomatic decisions and actions on the strongest, most informed scientific, economic and social analyses possible. The goal is to:
- Maximize our current energy resources by developing new supplies and using conventional energy more efficiently.
- Mitigate the environmental impacts associated with energy consumption, including water use.
- 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 appropriately internalizing public goods such as enhanced security and environmental stewardship.