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Two Energy Futures

By 2100, the world’s energy system will be radically different from today’s.  Renewable energy like solar, wind, hydroelectricity, and biofuels will make up a large share of the energy mix, and nuclear energy, too, will have a place. Humans will have found ways of dealing with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will have reduced the amount of energy needed to power buildings and vehicles.

Indeed, the distant future looks bright, but much depends on how we get there. There are two possible routes. Let’s call the first scenario Scramble . Like an off-road rally through a mountainous desert, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of “more haste” will often be “less speed,” and many will crash along the way.

The alternative scenario can be called Blueprints , which resembles a cautious ride, with some false starts, on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technological innovation provides the excitement.

Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our room to maneuver. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.