Energy Challenges: Why There Isn’t an Easy Solution
The epic challenge of the 21st century is filling the gap between energy supply and demand with clean, reliable and inexpensive energy. While new sources of energy are gradually changing the landscape, products made from fossil fuels continue to heat our homes, fuel our cars and power our computers. Despite extraordinary advances in technology, rapid economic growth in countries like China and India will require more energy. Some solutions are being implemented today, but many will come from the next generation of entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists. In order to rise to this grand challenge, we must consider the following issues.
Encouraging Growth of Alternative Energy Sources
Research at companies, universities and national laboratories are pioneering technologies that will aim to be sustainable and economically competitive with today’s fossil fuels. While wind, solar and biofuels appear to be among the most promising, significant breakthroughs are still required to make them viable sources of future energy supply. The wind blows where and when it wants. Similarly, the sun only shines during the day and is most intense in sparsely populated areas. How do we effectively transport this energy from such remote areas to big cities? How can we efficiently store energy generated during the day for use in homes at night? The challenge will be to bridge these supply limitations with a 24-hour demand for electricity throughout the world. This means making our electricity grid more efficient and streamlined while developing storage systems to allow wind and solar energy to be saved for times of peak use.
Another source of future alternative energy may come from the world’s vast reserves of natural gas. Currently, much of our electricity comes from burning coal in power plants, releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide and other gases. Despite advancements in “clean coal” technology, alternatives to coal will surely be part of tomorrow’s solution. New technologies are beginning to unlock vast reservoirs of natural gas in North America, making it both a cheap and clean alternative to coal. Natural gas is also more easily transportable over long distances and releases less pollutants for the same amount of energy produced.
It is likely that meeting tomorrow’s energy needs will require not just one but all of these alternatives working alongside traditional fossil fuels.