The United States Desperately Needs A National Energy Policy
There are two fundamental ‘things’ needed to sustain human life, water and energy. Water is the more precious of the two as reflected in the Arab saying “Water is life.” Without water life as we know it would not exist, and there are no substitutes for water – without it we die.
We also need energy to power our bodies, derived from chemical conversions of the food we consume. We also need energy to enable the external energy services we rely on in daily life – lighting, heating, cooling, transportation, clean water, communications, entertainment, and commercial and industrial activities. Where energy differs from water as a critical element of sustainable development is the fact that energy is available in many different forms for human use – e.g., by combustion of fossil fuels, nuclear power, and various forms of renewable energy.
Today the U.S., and indeed the world, stands at a critical juncture on how to provide these energy services in the future. Historically, energy has been provided to some extent by human power, by animal power, and the burning of wood to create heat and light. Wind energy was also used for several centuries to power ships and land-based windmills that provided mechanical energy for water-pumping and threshing. With the discovery and development of large energy resources in the form of stored chemical energy in hydrocarbons such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, the world turned to the combustion of these fuels to release large amounts of thermal energy and eventually electricity with the development of steam power generators. Nuclear power was introduced in the period following World War II as a new source of heat for producing steam and powering electricity generators and ships.
My recommendation is to put a long-term and steadily increasing price on carbon emissions to motivate appropriate private sector decisions to use fewer fossil fuels and more renewable energy and let the markets work
Renewable energy, energy that is derived directly or indirectly from the sun’s energy intercepted by the earth (except for geothermal energy that is derived from radioactive decay in the earth’s core), has been available for a while in the form of hydropower, originally in the form of run-of-the-river water wheels, and since the 20th century in the form of large hydroelectric dams. Other forms of renewable energy have emerged recently as important options for the future, driven by steadily reducing costs, the realization that fossil fuels, while currently available in large quantity but eventually depletable, put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when combusted, contributing to global warming and associated climate change. Renewable energy technologies, except for biomass conversion or combustion, puts no carbon into the atmosphere, but even in the biomass case it is a no-net-carbon situation since carbon is absorbed in the growing of biomass materials such as wood and other crops.