Features - October 2008
Sustainable Strategies: Ensuring Our Nation’s Energy Future
by Carl O. Bauer
America’s energy bounty drives our economy. Energy powers our cities, fuels our vehicles, and provides us with food and shelter. It makes modern medicine possible and permits us to communicate in ways that were unforeseen a generation ago. For more than 200 years, this “capacity to do work” has built our nation into a sophisticated society in which we enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living and a position of global leadership.
Today, however, America’s energy security is threatened by rising prices, declining supplies, and the impact of energy use on the environment. Increased competition for global energy supplies is leading to constrained resources and sharp price escalations, particularly in oil and natural gas.
Secure, reliable energy at a sustainable price is essential to political stability and economic growth. However, producing energy also means producing greenhouse gas emissions, particulate matter, radioactive waste, and solid waste. It means delving into the earth for fossil fuels, lining ridge tops with wind turbines, and damming rivers for hydropower.
Starting in the second half of the last century and continuing today, concern for our environment has become an equal consideration in the energy scheme. Because we care about our natural environment, we must continuously work to minimize the consequences of energy production and use on our land, air, and waterways, as well as to wildlife and human life.
Many energy strategies regard supply, cost, and the environment as three disparate challenges, focusing on one at the expense of the others. This produces a competitive tension that pulls the spheres in opposing directions. Significant improvements may be realized in a chosen area, but the remaining two are left stagnant, or are severely compromised.
The U.S. Department of Energy has consistently incorporated all three of these critical elements into its strategic plans for public energy research and development. In support of the Department’s efforts, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) pursues science and engineering solutions with the ultimate goal of finding tools and processes that resolve the three challenges concurrently.
One technology that holds great potential is the sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from our nation’s power plants. Implementing this clean coal technology on a broad scale will help us achieve greater energy security at lower cost while reducing our environmental footprint. Coal gasification, unconventional oil and natural gas production, increases in energy efficiency, and modernization of our electric grid are only a few of the other pathways being pursued by NETL.
NETL’s efforts encompass basic science, the development and demonstration of advanced technologies, and the transfer of solutions to the marketplace. Energy analysis underpins the laboratory’s research and contributes to the formation of local, state, and national policies and regulations. To accelerate success, NETL collaborates with industry, academia, other public agencies, and international colleagues.
No single source of energy is adequate to meet all of our nation’s needs. America and the American people must look to all of our energy resources—wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, and fossil—and seek the best methods of maximizing these assets, containing costs, and protecting our environment. NETL believes that this is the best approach to meeting the world’s energy needs.
For more information on NETL’s solutions to today’s energy challenges, please survey our website, download our technical papers, review our technologies, and contact us for further discussion.