The energy future of America is among the most important topics we face today. New technologies, climate change, and peak oil are affecting the economy and our lives. The shifts are happening—it’s just a question of how we will respond. Of course, the question of how America can change its energy future is not a simple one, and the answers here will likely surprise you. It’s not just environmentalists calling for increased efficiency and renewable energy. Venture capitalists, students, CEOs, and policy experts are talking about a future that involves a whole lot of sun and wind.
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Eben Bayer What he does: Chief executive and co-founder of Ecovative Design
Where: Green Island, N.Y.
"We need to reduce our energy consumption. The cheapest megawatts are those we don't spend, and we spend stupid energy. Examples range from SUVs, to poorly insulated homes, to wasteful plastic materials, like Styrofoam. Cutting our energy intensity by 50 percent would mean we import essentially no oil. I used to believe in miracle power solutions, like fusion, but now that I believe in thermodynamics, I'm a strong proponent for using less—it’s the only way.”
David Blittersdorf What he does: CEO and founder of AllEarth Renewables
Where: Williston, Vt.
"We need a paradigm shift to 80 percent renewable energy, and we need it fast. We hit the jackpot of hundreds of millions of years of stored-up fossil fuels, and, like most lottery winners, we're now going broke. Now we must shift from 300 years of reliance and extraction of finite fuels toward the sun and wind. By doing so, a renewable renaissance will generate millions of local jobs, inspire new manufacturing, dramatically cut carbon pollution, and reduce social, economic, and national security risks. We simply cannot afford to wait."
Lester R. Brown What he does:
President of the Earth Policy Institute
and author of World on the EdgeWhere:
"Reduce the tax on income and offset it with a tax on carbon. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, taxing labor less would effectively reduce the cost of labor, thus creating more jobs."
Brad Carson What he does: Director, National Energy Policy Institute at the University of Tulsa
"Reduce the country's appetite for oil. It is essential that we consider all the economic, geopolitical, and climate impacts of oil when crafting an energy policy. In the short run, we must increase the supply of oil from non-OPEC nations—the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and others. This will reduce the power of OPEC, will make oil price shocks less common, and will minimize the wealth transfer from the U.S. to dubious regimes. In the long run, we must devote heroic efforts to finding an alternative transportation fuel—natural gas for cars and trucks, electric cars, biofuels, and even hydrogen must all be pursued."
Ken Caldeira What he does: Senior scientist, Global Ecology Dept., Carnegie Institution for Science
Where: Stanford, Calif.
"Develop and deploy clean energy systems at the massive scale that we need to power economic growth in the 21st century. We need to end the subsidy we provide to the fossil-fuel industry in allowing it to use the atmosphere as a waste dump. We must increase investment in education and in energy research and development so we can build capacity for a renaissance of scientific and technical innovation that will provide jobs, improve our international balance of trade, and increase our national security. America's future can be even better than America's past, but only if we invest in our future.”
Edward H. Crane What he does: Founder and president, the Cato Institute
Where: Washington, D.C.
"The most important thing we could do to improve our energy future is to get the government out of the business of centrally planning and micromanaging energy markets. Affordable energy is abundant and no different than any other commodity. There is nothing special about energy markets that require political control. Government dictates and subsidies have produced one energy boondoggle after another. Rather than rig markets to favor politically popular fuels and technologies and penalize unpopular ones, we should turn the energy sector loose, eliminating subsidies as well as ill-advised production constraints."
Shreya Dave What she does: Master’s of science student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Where: Cambridge, Mass.
"America must continue to enable technology-to-market strategies, accepting more of the risk associated with early-stage investment, especially in the face of an uncertain economic climate. Less talked about, but equally crucial, is prioritizing the education of our next generation. Energy issues are not going to be solved in the next five, 10, or 20 years. It is equally our responsibility to foster future ideas, innovations, and successes as it is to invest and develop them today."
Wendel E. Dreve What he does: Managing member, Farmers’ Ethanol
Where: Adamsville, Ohio
"Common sense energy solutions must include controlling regulatory bureaucracy [and] using available domestic resources with a 'unified energy plan.' Recapturing past distributive electrical generation, copying showroom-ready, 65-plus mpg cars from Europe, and fostering private enterprise energy technology (solar, wind, sea, biomass, etc.) must become our primary focus. We must waste less energy, use it more efficiently, and create a countrywide understanding of the problem and our willingness to fix it. We cannot continue to use 20 percent of the world’s energy for 4 percent of the world’s population. The U.S. must invent (or reinvent) its way to a better energy solution while educating our population."
Jennifer Fonstad What she does: Managing director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Where: Menlo Park, Calif.
"State or local governments should distribute LED lights for free to every home, office, and school in the country. It would pay for itself in electricity savings in two and a half years and reduce the need to build dozens of new power plants around the country. States could issue bonds to pay for it and share electricity savings with bondholders. There is no better win-win on the energy landscape today."
Norma J. Glover What she does: Principal, NJG Associates, and board member, Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority
Where: Avon, Conn.
"Put more funding into CCS, the technology of carbon capture and sequestration (or storage) as it applies to coal. Continue improving the battery for the electric car and modernize our 'grid' by putting our best minds to work making it more secure from natural events and terrorist attacks. Continue our diversity of solutions for both mobile and stationary sources; the world is changing so fast there is no 'IT' solution. There will be no real changes in our energy patterns until after 2030. At that time, we will note the most changes in percentages in mobile sources, i.e. more CNG, LNG, and hydrogen in fleets and in heavy-duty trucks and more electric cars for in-town driving or short trips. Renewables will continue to increase as part of our diversity for stationary sources. In the end, China will find the CCS solution faster than us and will also determine if electric cars can make it."
Dwight C. Jones What he does: Mayor
Where: Richmond, Va.
"The largest category of energy used in most urban areas, like the city of Richmond, is energy consumed in existing buildings for heating, cooling, lighting, and other purposes. As urban population continues to grow and we consume more energy in our cities, we can improve our energy future by improving the efficiency of our existing buildings. This work is local, and it spurs economic development and job creation within our communities."
Lynn Jurich What she does: President and co-founder, SunRun
Where: San Francisco
"America needs a holistic plan that lays out where we'll get our energy over time and how we'll pay for it. Smart subsidies prioritize energy sources that will decrease in cost. For example, sunlight is free, and solar panels at scale will be a low-cost, long-term solution. Yet we are putting more subsidies into fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, that are actually going up in price over time and becoming increasingly dangerous and expensive to extract. As part of our holistic plan, we must also support the emerging technologies that drive innovation around new energy sources. These technologies, combined with regulatory certainty, help create jobs and attract private capital to accelerate growth."
Becky Kelley What she does: Campaign director, Washington Environmental Council
"Cap carbon pollution. Climate change and reliance on dirty fuels impose huge costs on the American economy. Denial is a luxury we can no longer afford. By refusing to further subsidize climate pollution, we will unleash the power of American innovation to build a clean energy economy."
Michael Kracauer What he does: Architect and principal, Architropic
Where: Boulder, Colo.
"The driving force behind my work as an architect today is the desire to address climate change, which I do by making the houses I design as energy efficient as possible and utilizing renewable energy sources such as solar for the greatly reduced remaining energy loads. I believe this is a good model for America's energy policy—get real about climate change, reduce our energy loads through much greater energy efficiency, and strongly promote renewable energy. And all of this would happen if America had a carbon tax or cap-and-trade law."
Raymond J. Land III What he does: President, Fabulous Coach Lines
Where: Branford, Fla.
"At Fabulous Coach Lines in Florida, we use a million dollars in diesel fuel annually, and I wish we were spending that money in America buying U.S. oil instead of sending all that money to the Middle East. We are often spending $1,000 to fill up one of our 56 passenger motorcoaches, and I just feel bad being forced to buy from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran when we should be helping our U.S. economy."
Andy Marsh What he does: President and CEO, Plug Power
Where: Latham, N.Y.
"New technologies such as fuel cells would instantly be more competitive if the older, inefficient, dirty energy sources were priced appropriately. Business and consumer demand and private investment for new energy technologies would instantly boom, and the free market would reward the best solutions. The market price of traditional energy sources is not indicative of the true cost to society. Hidden costs, such as military protection of the shipping lanes for oil and the environmental costs of carbon emissions, are not reflected in the price of energy."
Lewis Milford, Esq. What he does: President, Clean Energy Group and senior fellow, Brookings
Where: Montpelier, Vt.
“Rather than look to only federal solutions to clean energy progress, the
federal government should ‘lead from behind’ the states, which have proven the
consistent leaders and job creators on clean energy for the last decade. What
should the federal government do? First, fund existing or new state-level
infrastructure banks that finance conventional projects like roads but also new
clean energy technologies, and support new state-level 'green banks' like one
just created in Connecticut. A ‘decentralized finance’ approach to public
finance for clean energy should be a top priority. Second, many states have
created new economic development programs and policies for clean energy focused
on supply chains, workforce training and industry clusters. The Administration
could consider directing matching funds (reprogrammed or repurposed rather than
new funds) to these states to expand their job creating programs without
creating a new federal bureaucracy. For jobs creation, especially in clean
energy where there is little federal bipartisan support, clean energy
federalism, with states in the lead, is the best answer.”
Marvin Odum What he does: President, Shell Oil
"Over the next four decades, the world's energy system will see profound developments. Heightened collaboration between public and private sectors is vital if we want to address our economic, energy, and environmental challenges. It is in our control to ensure that the development of domestic oil and gas resources—both offshore in the Gulf and in the Arctic and onshore—accelerate in the right direction. With increasing challenges to market-based solutions, we must focus on policies that deliver affordable energy now and technological advances for the future."
David S. Poritz What he does: President and CEO, Equitable Origin
Where: New York and Quito, Ecuador
"Even as we transition to more sustainable forms of energy, Americans need to ensure that every barrel of oil comes from a responsible origin. As oil and gas are continually being extracted from environmentally and socially fragile regions of the U.S. and the world, such as the Alaskan tundra, the Amazon rainforest, and the Niger Delta, it is imperative that all companies adhere to the highest levels of environmental and social responsibility. Transparency, accountability and respect for local communities need to become industry norms, and stakeholders should be involved in defining these norms. As Americans and consumers of oil and gas, we all share a collective responsibility to support and reward energy companies that are implementing best industry practices and continually pushing the envelope to achieve an ever higher level of performance and verification."
Timothy Profeta What he does: Director, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University
Where: Durham, N.C.
"Have government provide a clear market direction—showing the actors involved they must move away from insecure, nondiverse, and greenhouse gas polluting energy sources. To do so, America must overcome its inopportune political paralysis and craft a strategy providing a long-term signal to the marketplace that guides the country's energy transition. This market signal should create business certainty for the private sector, allowing business leaders to meet the new energy goals in an economically efficient manner while stimulating investment in new energy technologies. Until the political will can be mustered to do this, America must work in a coordinated way in the various fields of current energy policy—through the states, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—to ensure we continue to move in a direction that is diversified, secured by domestic sources of energy, and addresses the challenge of global warming."
Suzanne Pude What she does: Community Energy Director, Island Institute
Where: Rockland, Maine
"Think locally, act locally. Energy generation is such a foreign concept for so many Americans. even though it is inextricably linked to our daily lives, homes, and businesses. Regardless of federal politics, communities are taking steps to weatherize municipal buildings, develop locally owned renewable energy projects, and enable students to learn math and science skills by analyzing their school's energy use data. When we move our focus from the Middle East to Main Street, we can keep money in the local economy and make our communities more resilient places to live and work."
Representative Dana Rohrabacher (D-Calif.) What he does: U.S. congressman
Where: Washington, D.C.
"Get out of the way of the development of our natural resources—whether they be the vast swaths of land in the desert Southwest conducive for solar energy projects, the tar sands of the Dakotas, or the abundant reserves of oil and natural gas held deep beneath our ocean's floors. All these resources have the potential to create millions of jobs and trillions in economic activity, and they are environmentally friendlier than pursuing the status quo. Unfortunately, radical environmentalists continue to stand in the way of each of these advancements and have, as a result, ensured a continuation of the status quo—little growth, little wealth, and an unhealthier environment relative to what we could have."
David Rothenberg What he does: Author, musician, professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology
Where: New York
"Realize that it’s time for a complete energy revolution and devote as much of our resources as we can to solar, wind, hydropower, and increased efficiency of batteries. But don’t be afraid to dream and experiment; nature has always been much more than efficient, and we should be too."
Ben Schlesinger What he does: President, Benjamin Schlesinger & Associates; president, U.S. Association for Energy Economics
Where: Bethesda, Md.
"First, act now to fix problems that concern many people about shale gas drilling, with more water recycling and safe water and methane handling. Second—and this one costs relatively little—get smart grid equipment and systems onto our nation's electricity systems. Third, and maybe most important, use less energy and stop burning so much fuel in cars, buildings, power plants, and industry. Do these things and a few others—such as build the Keystone Pipeline, Alaska Gas Pipeline, and keep our nuclear plants running—and we'll go a long way toward improving our energy future economically and securely, have a cleaner and safer environment, and reduce world energy stresses as well."
Steve Scribner What he does: Project manager, "Empowerhouse" (winning project in 2011 Solar
Decathlon affordability contest, by Parsons The New School for Design, the
Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New
School, and Stevens Institute of Technology)
Where: New York
"To improve America's energy future, we need to start making buildings that consume the least amount of energy possible. It is not enough to have a home produce more energy than it consumes—we need to drastically decrease that energy demand. Empowerhouse did this by constructing thick walls with excellent insulation, using tape and caulk to make sure the building is perfectly air-tight, carefully placing windows to bring solar energy inside in the winter and keep it out in the summer, and installing super efficient heating and cooling equipment....This affordable approach will be deployed on a large scale by Habitat for Humanity." Photographer: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy
Lexi Shultz What she does: Legislative director, Climate & Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Where: Washington, D.C.
"Stop using polluting coal to generate electricity to power our homes, refrigerators, and iPhones and shift to clean energy, including wind and solar. This switch would create new American jobs manufacturing wind turbines and solar panels and protect our health from the pollutants that coal-fired power plants emit, such as toxic mercury and the gases that cause smog and global warming. Big coal producers claim coal is cheap, but they conveniently leave out coal's health costs, including its contributions to heart and lung disease. The White House and Congress need to enact policies that will speed this transition—tough pollution standards on coal plants and requirements that utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from clean sources."
Dr. Riccardo Signorelli What he does: CEO, FastCAP Systems
"We need to focus on workforce development, plain and simple. One of the biggest challenges we face as a company is finding qualified candidates with the proper educational background and experience. Young people in the U.S. are simply not studying technology, math, and science at the levels of their international counterparts, and that makes them ill-prepared for the cutting-edge technology jobs that companies like FastCAP are creating. If we want to achieve the goal of energy independence through the creation of a clean energy economy, we must first address the elephant in the room by encouraging our young people to pursue advanced degrees in technology and science."
Dinesh Wadhwani What he does: Chief executive, ThinkLite, and student, Babson College
Where: Framingham, Mass.
“I feel that the future of energy—whether be it alternative energy sources, or
efficiency within our grid—will only resonate with main street and only gain
mass adaptation if the ROI on these projects becomes short and quick enough for
the private agent. The largest commercial and industrial properties will invest
in more efficient energy projects if they can be promised a return on their
money in a relatively short period of time, which is typically within three to
five years for a U.S. company.”
Bilal Zuberi What he does: Principal, Catalyst Partners
"America must recognize the true cost of its energy needs, including the full cost of maintaining fossil fuel imports from unfriendly nations and environmentally adverse effects of energy related pollution on heath and the ecosystem. We have somehow fooled ourselves into thinking energy is cheap when it is really not. We need a comprehensive energy policy that is not drafted by lobbyists and that prioritizes diversity in the energy mix while aggressively supporting activities that lead us toward greater energy independence: energy efficiency, low carbon fuels and transportation, renewable power generation, and continuous innovation across the spectrum."