Report: The Next Decade will Determine America's Energy Future

August 5, 2009

Actions taken by the United States between now and 2020 to develop and demonstrate several key energy technologies will largely determine the nation's energy options for many years to come, according to a new report from the National Research Council (NRC). The report, "America's Energy Future: Technology and Transformation," notes that the United States could obtain substantial energy-efficiency improvements, new sources of energy, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through the accelerated deployment of existing and emerging energy technologies. Deploying energy-efficiency technologies in buildings alone could eliminate the growth in U.S. electricity demand, while deploying energy efficiency in all sectors, including industry and transportation, could reduce projected U.S. energy use by 30% in 2030.

The report notes that a broad portfolio approach, supporting basic research through the demonstration stage, will likely be more effective than targeted efforts aimed at identifying technology winners and losers. At the demonstration stage, high-priority technologies include carbon capture and storage, evolutionary nuclear technologies, cellulosic ethanol, and advanced light-duty vehicles. The more long-term research and development needs include new technologies for producing liquid fuels from renewable resources, advanced batteries and fuel cells, large-scale electricity storage, enhanced geothermal power, and advanced solar photovoltaic technologies. In addition, because many barriers exist that could delay or prevent technology deployment, the report recommends that sustained policy and regulatory actions, as well as other forms of incentives, be employed to drive adoption. See the National Academies press release and the full report, which can be read online for free.

As part of the America's Energy Future study, the NRC also issued a report in mid-June that specifically examines renewable power. The report concludes that renewable energy could meet a significant portion of U.S. electricity needs, but taking full advantage of the potential for renewable energy will require enhanced technologies, increased deployment, greater financial investments, and the implementation of policies to drive the increased adoption of renewable electricity. With accelerated deployment, increases in transmission capacity, and other electric-grid improvements, non-hydroelectric renewable sources could contribute up to 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020, and 20% or more by 2035, according to the report. However, major scientific advances and changes to the way we generate, transmit, and use electricity will be needed before renewable energy can contribute the majority of U.S. electricity. Necessary improvements include the development of intelligent, two-way electric grids; large-scale and distributed electricity storage; and significantly enhanced, yet cost-effective, long-distance electricity transmission. See the National Academies press release and the full report.