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This is Part 10 of a paper written about the projected US Energy profile in the year 2050. In this chapter, we offer several important Energy Policy recommendations. 

To realistically achieve the 2050 Energy Portfolio goals that we have set forth, the US will need to act quickly to implement a strategic plan of energy policy for its energy future. We recommend the following measures, which will put the US on the right path towards a secure, reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable future.

1. Institute a carbon tax or cap and trade system. A carbon tax or cap and trade system is necessary to prepare the US for a sustainable future. From an economic perspective, putting a cost on carbon would eliminate externalities in the market, internalizing the social cost of carbon. Such a measure would gradually reduce American dependence on oil and coal and increase investment in nuclear and renewable energy resources.

2. Promote energy efficiency above all energy sources. Promote energy efficiency above all energy sources. To ensure that we have energy resource for years to come, the US government needs to promote energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is often the most affordable means to reducing our carbon footprint and increasing consumption capabilities. We need to find common ground in efficiency with energy producing nations and developing countries, which often are the least efficient. We should continue to raise CAFE standards for transportation vehicles and mandate efficiency in home appliances, and (5) public/private partnerships.

3. Promote clean coal technologies. The government should pass legislation to slowlyphase out existing coal facilities, which cause significant damage to the environment. The federal government should play a vital role in funding the development of cleaner coal technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration, through significant subsidies, tax incentives, and research grants to any companies supporting clean coal technology. While many of these technologies are in their infant stages, further government support can play an extremely important role.

4. Responsibly manage the next price down-cycle. When oil prices drop, the US should lead the way in promoting sustainability and efficiency even when overconsumption is easy. The way that the US handles the next boom and bust will be indicative of its management of the energy crisis over the next century.

5. Pressure the international community to accurately report reserves. The federal government needs to convince oil-exporting nations such as Saudi Arabia that accurately reporting oil and gas reserves is in their best interest as well as the best interest of the world. An international uranium resource assessment should also be conducted to determine a more accurate uranium reserve count.

6. Secure liquefied natural gas trade agreements with natural gas rich countries.The federal government should incentivize the private sector to establish joint IOC/NOC ventures in countries like Qatar and Russia. It should also expedite the licensing process of LNG receiving terminals and eliminate the state governor’s veto power of off-shore terminals.

7. Include nuclear power in state and federal renewable portfolio standards.A lot of emphasis is currently put on renewable portfolio standards at the state and federal levels. Including nuclear power as a carbon-free energy would greatly incentive the public and private sectors to more aggressively pursue nuclear technologies.

8. Establish a strategic plan for nuclear waste management both domestically and abroad. The recent debate over using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository has revealed that the US has no strategic plan for waste disposal. The Department of Energy must broaden long-term R&D for nuclear waste management and encourage greater international standardization of regulations for transport, storage and disposal. A nuclear accident across the world will have ramifications on national public opinion. Also, the risk of nuclear proliferation heightens our interest in nuclear waste disposal abroad.

9. Properly incentivize solar and wind energy use.Federal subsidies and tax breaks should strive for three different goals. First of all, increased federal support should be given to supporting consumers who add solar panels to their houses or businesses. By offering a more effective utility buy-back system for generated solar energy, we can copy the European Union’s successful model to increase demand for solar energy. Secondly, we need to offer significant subsidies to any companies engaged in the solar industry. Without federal funding, it is simply economically impossible for solar power to competitively succeed as an energy source. Thirdly, the federal government should contribute considerable funding to research and development into solar technologies. A strong public-private research partnership can make significant progress in reducing the costs of solar power.

10.  Jump-start the electric vehicles industry.For electric vehicles to gain traction consumers will need incentives to buy them. Also, the federal government needs to start making sure that the electricity infrastructure will be in place when the demand for electric vehicles rises.

11.  Continue investing in second and third generation biofuels.The government must create tax incentives and subsidies that particularly focus on second and third generation technologies. With government taking an active role, biofuel technologies can be cheap, sustainable, and help to ease the transition towards more renewable sources of energy.

This is Part 9 of a paper written about the projected US Energy profile in the year 2050. In this chapter, we take a look at the role of Energy Efficiency. 

The AEO2010 tracks energy intensity over the last couple decades. A high-energy intensity indicates less energy efficiency or a higher cost of converting energy into GDP. A low-energy intensity indicates more energy efficiency or lower cost of turning energy into GDP. Since 1992, our energy intensity has decreased by approximately 1.9 % per year, (EIA, AEO 2010). This change is attributed mostly to the nation’s shift from manufacturing to the service sector. Also, the AEO predicts that energy consumption per capita will decline 0.4 percent per year from 2008 to 2030. If the U.S. government implements proper regulations and incentives, our energy intensity per capita should decline at higher rates of 1 to 2% per year from 2030 to 2050.

By all estimates, adoption of more stringent energy efficiency measures is more cost effective than switching to alternative sources of producing electricity. The chart below shows the direct monetary cost and emissions costs of energy efficiency measures compared to renewables and clean technologies. After implementation of a cap and trade system, we can expect the direct cost to more accurately reflect the emissions cost.

Reduction in energy intensity over the last couple decades has saved the U.S. from large increases in energy consumption. Without previous reductions in energy intensity, we would be consuming much more today. We need a more strategic plan for being a more energy efficient nation, including retrofitting of existing buildings, higher energy efficiency standards for appliances, and comprehensive education for all citizens. Higher efficiency can also reduce overall consumption, thus reducing dependency on foreign resources.

McKinsey & Company released a study showing the potentially negative cost of carbon dioxide reduction using energy efficiency. Most efficiency losses are in industry and the manufacturing sector. Advancements in technologies to take the efficiency of coal plants from 40% to 60%, for example, will be crucial in making huge energy efficiency leaps. Also, in the U.S. transmission and distribution of electricity see 7% energy losses. Advancements in nanotechnology could allow for fast and efficient transmission. The challenges in transmission are in finding a transmitter that is lighter and cheaper than copper. Nanotubes fit both criteria and have on average 5% energy losses in contrast to 7%. Reducing transmission losses across the nation to 6% would result in a national annual energy savings of 4 X 1010 kilowatt-hoursan annual energy savings roughly equivalent to 24 million barrels of oil (National Nanotechnology Institute).

The barriers to energy efficiency are real but surmountable. The first is inertia. People have a hard time changing their habits, and unless the average consumer gains a new sense of urgency regarding energy reduction, he or she may continue along the same path. Also, energy producers have a disincentive towards promoting more efficiency in the U.S. Another obstacle is that all of the costs are borne upfront and savings are achieved afterwards. Humans can be myopic and weigh short-term costs as more important that achieving long-term gains.

However, there is hope using the power of government policies. The five main tools that the government has to increase energy efficiency are: (1) dissemination of information, (2) restrictive regulations, (3) market incentives, (4) funding/grant programs, and (5) public/private partnerships, (Saidel & Alves, 2003).

This is Part 8 of a paper written about the projected US Energy profile in the year 2050. In this chapter, we take a look at some less significant energy sources, including geothermal energy, hydropower, and tidal energy. 

Geothermal Energy

The greatest potential for geothermal energy is in the use of heat pumps in residences or commercial buildings. A geothermal heat pump works like an electric heat pump except the heat comes from the ground. In an open loop cycle, water from an underground well circulates through the pump and back into the well, into a separate well, or through surface discharge. A closed loop cycle circulates water into horizontal or vertical pipes, where the water exchanges heat with the ground. Once back to ground temperature (around 55 degrees Fahrenheit), the water is cycled back through.

Because of tax incentives in the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, consumption of geothermal energy is four times higher than it was five years ago.  Like all other renewable technologies, geothermal has high fixed costs and low maintenance costs. Geothermal power currently makes up 5% of our renewable energy profile, more than wind and solar combined. The EIA 2010 Energy Outlook predicts that 2.25 million residences will have geothermal heat pumps in 2030. However, this would still account for only 2.2% of residential heating. The U.S. consumes the most energy from geothermal sources of nations worldwide, although several countries in the Far East, such as the Philippines, consume a much larger percentage of geothermal energy out of their total energy consumption.

Geothermal power plants use steam from several miles below the earth’s surface to generate electricity. Most power plants still use fossil fuels, which, though not as expensive, is worse for the environment and less efficient. The three types of geothermal plants are dry steam, flash steam, and binary cycle. Binary power plants are the most common because they only require low-temperature reservoirs.

Hydro Power

Hydroelectric dams supplied 2.4% of U.S. energy consumed in 2008, (EIA AEO 2010). The U.S. has fully harnessed its hydroelectric power, so the amount of energy supplied from dams is likely to remain constant over the next forty years.

Wave, Tidal and Ocean Energy

We do not foresee wave, tidal, and ocean current technologies playing a part in the near term future. In addition to lack of economically viable technologies, the potential environmental harm to already fragile marine eco-systems is too great. Perhaps ocean energy will be harnessed successfully in the far future. Wave energy has the most potential and the possibility of providing one-fourth of world energy consumption with advancements in technologies.

This is Part 7 of a paper written about the projected US Energy profile in the year 2050. In this chapter, we take a look at solar energy as an energy source.

History of Solar Energy

One of the most intriguing renewable technologies is solar energy. Throughout history, the power of the sun has long fascinated humans. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Aztecs, worshipped the power of the sun. The Greeks, and later the Romans, harnessed passive solar energy in much of their architecture (Alternate). Through the use of passive solar buildings, ancient civilizations were able to create effective heating and air conditioning effects.

Solar energy has long fascinated humans; in fact, energy from the sun is directly responsible for the vast majority of all other energy resources. Through photosynthesis, energy from the sun is stored in plants and other biomass across the globe. The human body and all life on earth are also driven by solar energy, as we get our energy from biomass. Similarly, fossil fuel resources (coal, natural gas, and oil) all derive their energy through carbon burial of ancient solar energy.

The vast majority of the earth’s energy is derived directly from the sun’s power. The use of the term “solar energy” today typically refers to directly harnessing the energy of the sun’s radiation to produce electricity. While there is such limitless potential in solar energy, the great challenge is to harness this potential into an economically viable resource that is competitive in the energy marketplace.

Current Use of Solar Energy

Currently, approximately 0.1% of the United States’ yearly electricity is supplied by solar energy. While there has been significant discussion about the potential and importance of solar resources, entrenched fossil fuels and the comparatively high prices of solar energy have restricted any significant progress.

Once of the main reasons solar energy is so fascinating is because of its tremendous potential. Each day, more solar energy is absorbed by the earth than the entire world uses in a whole year (Globe).

The United States has been slow to capitalize on its solar potential (Carlin). However, internationally, many nations have achieved much greater success with solar energy. In particular, the European Union has achieved tremendous success in increasing solar capacity.  In Germany, solar power meets approximately 1% of total electricity demand and this number is rapidly rising (US Lags). In Spain, this number is 2.8% (Sawin).  . In fact, for several days last year, over 50% of Spain’s electricity demand was powered by solar energy (Wind Energy consolidated).

Recently, China has also developed a significant solar presence, in both consumption and production of solar panels (Watts). As these countries invest greater resources and technology into the rapidly developing solar market, prices will decrease and, ultimately, allow for non-subsidized solar technologies to achieve success. The United States has much to learn from the example set by these countries.

How Solar Energy works

There are two main methods for harnessing the energy of the sun for electricity production: solar thermal energy and photovoltaic cells.

Solar thermal energy is the most traditional form. Through a series of concentrated panels, the heat of the sun is concentrated on a very small area, creating a significant amount of heat. This heat is then transferred to water, creating steam and spinning a turbine, creating electricity the same way a combustion reaction does.

However, instead of burning fossil fuels to generate heat, thermal energy directly uses the sun’s heat energy. Ultimately, this also accounts for significantly greater efficiency. While fossil fuels receive heat energy from the sun that is stored and then combusted, with a poor rate of return, solar panels attempt to directly harness as much of the sun’s heat as possible.

Consequently, photovoltaic cells work very differently from most traditional forms of energy. Instead of spinning a turbine, PV cells directly convert the sun’s radiation into electricity. In doing so, they take advantage of the photoelectric and photovoltaic effect. The photoelectric effect suggests that when light is shined on to a metal surface, it will emit electrons and start a current. This theory takes advantage of the light’s particle nature.

The current generated through sunlight is then combined with an electric-field produced voltage that is built into a solar cell. Ultimately, through the combination of the electron-stream generated current and the panel-produced voltage, power can be produced. Impure silicon is typically the most effective material used to build solar panels, due to its crystalline structure that can easily generate an electric field. When sunlight is shined directly on a photovoltaic panel, the energy of the sun is converted directly to a current and electricity.

PV cells are extremely attractive, since they do not require any significant structures in the installation process (Toothman and Aldous). Nevertheless, due to the lack of sufficient research and development, most PV technology is still too expensive to be commercially viable.

Solar Energy Technologies

There are several different technologies prevalent in the solar industry. Since much emphasis on solar has been developed in the past 30 years, many newer technologies are still in the infant stages. The most widespread method for solar thermal power generation is the creation of solar towers.  Instead of relying on just cell angles to attract light, solar towers utilize mirrors, lenses, and other optical equipment to focus as much light on the cells as possible. While the additional infrastructure may sometimes be expensive to build, it ultimately brings down the costs of solar power and allows for much greater generation of electricity ((Toothman and Aldous).

This technology typically requires significant space and sunshine, but has the potential to be competitive with traditional electricity generation; Spain has successfully harnessed solar tower technology in the Andalucían deserts (Jha).

A new form of photovoltaic technology is thin-film solar cells. These are simple, much cheaper solar cells that are not made out of the ideal silicon that is used in the vast majority of panels. While these capture less energy than thicker cells, they are significantly cheaper to create and can be produced in much greater quantities (Toothman and Aldous).

One of the most fascinating future technologies is solar photovoltaic cells in space. For years, astronauts have utilized space solar panels to power satellites and space missions with the greater light intensity found in space; however, the most significant challenge to this technology is transporting it back to Earth.  A recent Japanese project aims to collect much higher-efficiency electricity in space and use a laser to beam it to the Earth (Hornyak).  Pacific Gas and Electric, a California utility, similarly has proposed the conversion of energy to radio waves which are sent to earth and translated to electricity (LaMonica). While this space technology is widely perceived as prohibitively expensive, there has not been any significant research into its potential.

One of the most significant challenges confronting solar penetration of the electricity market is the intermittent supply of the resource. Just like wind, solar energy is very unpredictable and cannot very easily be used as the sole resource in an energy mix. During periods of high energy demand, often at night, solar energy cannot be provided, because the sun is no longer shining. Solar energy is also heavily dependent on weather fluctuations and cannot increase or decrease capacity to match demand, as is possible with most traditional power plants. While some energy can be stored through solar thermal heating in the form of boiling water, significant heat is lost over time.

PV cells often also store energy in the form of batteries, but batteries are extremely expensive (Toothman and Aldous). The most significant potential for solar energy in the near future is as a supplemental resource to other power plants in the electric grid. In January 2008, a combined power plant built in Germany successfully combined solar energy with wind, biogas, and hydropower together to account for any intermittency in energy supplies (Technical Summary). This type of power plant, where many different renewable resources are used together, represents the most realistic plan for the future.

Solar Energy Environmental Concerns

While solar panels offer significant benefits for reducing dependence on fossil fuels, they also offer significant environmental benefits. First and foremost, solar energy does not produce any carbon emissions. It also does not produce any sort of toxic waste (like nuclear energy) and does not have the potential for any horrible safety accidents (such as the collapse of a coal mine or an oil spill). Providing that a system is properly installed, there are no real risks for safety.

Solar Energy Security

Another significant benefit for solar energy is its importance in energy security. The construction and use of solar panels can all be done using American resources. Instead of relying on Middle Eastern nations for fossil fuels and instead of being dependent on volatile foreign markets, domestically produced solar panels can be instrumental in achieving energy security.

However, in recent years, the vast majority of solar panel production has moved to China (Watts). Throughout the future, it is important for the US government to invest in building domestic production capacity in the solar industry. Unless this happens, we are simply trading dependence on Middle Eastern oil for a dependence on Chinese solar technologies.

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