An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Winter 2013

The Alternative Energy Future, Vol. 2

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This volume provides insights on topics such as public acceptance of new technologies, the factors that influence governmental support for clean energy, and strategies for gaining international cooperation to achieve energy policy goals. The essays stress the need both to apply what is already known and to develop new knowledge to address the societal transition.

See also The Alternative Energy Future, Vol. 1.

Crews begin to install a solar panel array as part of Oregon's Solar Highways Project, November 18, 2008. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Crews begin to install a solar panel array as part of Oregon's Solar Highways Project, November 18, 2008. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

A Trillion Tons

There is a consensus among scientists that stark dangers await in a world where the global mean temperature rises by more than about 2 degrees Celsius. That threshold corresponds to a collective human carbon emissions “budget” of around a trillion tons, of which half has been spent. This paper uses a new simulation model to look at strategies to stay within that budget, specifically assessing the impact of improvements in energy efficiency, aggressive deployment of renewables, and energy technology innovation.

Authors Hal Harvey, Franklin M. Orr, Jr., and Clara Vondrich

Why & How Governments Support Renewable Energy

Many countries have adopted comprehensive policy frameworks to support renewable energy, but the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy. This essay explores why some nations (Germany, China, and Denmark) and certain U.S. states (Colorado, Texas, and Ohio) have developed robust policies for the deployment of renewable energy.

Author Kelly Sims Gallagher

Reducing Carbon-Based Energy Consumption through Changes in Household Behavior

Actions by individuals and households to reduce carbon-based energy consumption have the potential to change the picture of U.S. energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in the near term. To tap this potential, however, energy policies and programs need to replace outmoded assumptions about what drives human behavior; they must integrate insights from the behavioral and social sciences with those from engineering and economics.

Authors Thomas Dietz, Paul C. Stern, and Elke U. Weber

The Public Acceptance of New Energy Technologies

In the wake of ominous results about the impending path of climate change, and with gasoline prices hovering around four dollars per gallon, the 2012 presidential and congressional campaigns are full of claims and counterclaims about the transformation of the U.S. energy system. Although much discussion has centered on the need for new energy technologies, this debate as yet has been narrow and limited. Meaningful deployment of any technology will raise questions of public acceptance.

Authors Roger E. Kasperson and Bonnie J. Ram

The Transnational Politics of Energy

Creating effective energy policy is hard, in part because it often requires effective international coordination. For most salient energy-related issues – such as control of the emissions that cause global climate change or the building of stockpiles to make oil supplies more secure – international coordination is inherently difficult.

The Institutional Blind Spot in Environmental Economics

Economic approaches are expected to achieve environmental goals at less cost than traditional regulations, but they have yet to find widespread application. One reason is the way these tools interact with existing institutions. The federalist nature of governmental authority assigns to subnational governments much of the implementation of environmental policy and primary authority for planning the infrastructure that affects environmental outcomes.

Designing a Durable Energy Policy

Although the U.S. energy system seems to resist the changes necessary to meet today's challenges related to energy security and climate change, the system has gone through massive change several times since 1850. A major driver in each of these earlier transitions was an economic value, such as mobility, that markets could capture.

Rethinking the Scale, Structure & Scope of U.S. Energy Institutions

This essay notes some of the key institutions created in the twentieth century for the purpose of delivering energy in North America. Those institutions are being challenged by a combination of stresses in three interconnected areas: reliability, economics, and environmental sustainability. The essay argues that these three stresses create an “energy trilemma” requiring institutional reform.

Authors Michael H. Dworkin, Roman V. Sidortsov, and Benjamin K. Sovacool

Energy in the Context of Sustainability

Today and in the coming decades, the world faces the challenge of meeting the needs of a still-growing human population, and of doing it sustainably – that is, without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Energy plays a pivotal role in this challenge, both because of its importance to economic development and because of the myriad interactions and influences it has on other critical sustainability issues.