National security, and economic vitality and growth depend upon adequate future supplies of energy and water. IIT’s Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research and its Robert W. Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation have developed an approach to the increasingly challenging task of creating a pathway to sustainable energy and water for our nation that is both multifaceted and complex. It aims to improve the reliability, security, and affordability of energy and water by
- utilizing a least-cost strategy to reduce the negative impact of energy consumption on climate change and water availability;
- emphasizing the gradual decarbonization of the global energy system;
- increasing energy efficiency and conservation; and
- preserving natural resources and the environment.
Our strategy recognizes that an effective national pathway to sustainability must include three plans (short-term, transitional, and long-term) that must be launched simultaneously.
SETTING SHORT-TERM STRATEGIC GOALS
Short-term plans must address our nation’s immediate need for energy supplies, materials, and water as well as efficient and smart usage and conservation. The short-term strategy must also include the:
- establishment of significant research and development in microgrid technology, energy security and reliability, and efficient and smart use of electricity in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors;
- development of carbon-capture and sequestration technologies, reduction of freshwater consumption in existing utility plants, and restriction of construction of new coal-based plants to only integrated-gasification combined-cycle plants with carbon-capture facilities; and
- establishment of a national program to launch sustainable built-environment programs, water and materials accountability and recycling, and reduction in energy use for transportation by using innovative local programs such as sustainable urban food production.
MANAGING THE TRANSITION
Transitional plans should address the shift from the present stage to the desired long-term goal of a society powered by sustainable energy using natural gas (with a lower carbon-to-hydrogen ratio) as the main transitional fuel. The plan should incorporate major infrastructural change and investment in both electricity and gas grids, which will include large-scale energy-storage facilities to accommodate conditions in which the major component of electricity is being produced using renewable-energy sources.
The plan should also include coordination between critical infrastructures (electricity, telecommunications, natural gas, and water), cybersecurity, and enhancement of infrastructure resilience in adverse conditions. In addition, a continuous increase in research and development activity is needed for production of natural gas (using environmentally acceptable fracturing or other technologies) from gas hydrates and low-permeability reserves such as shale formations. Abundant supplies of natural gas from unconventional reserves currently afford us a unique window of opportunity to invest in comprehensive fundamental and applied research and development initiatives in renewable energy, energy storage, water, and infrastructure of the electricity, gas, and water grids that are necessary for the implementation of a successful long-term energy strategy.
IMPLEMENTING AN EFFECTIVE LONG-TERM STRATEGY
An effective long-term plan should address major and comprehensive basic and applied research and development initiatives in renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind, and geothermal), large- and small-scale energy-storage facilities, and integration of renewable-energy supplies with the electricity grid. The long-term plan should also demand life-cycle analysis of materials and national water and carbon-based fuels consumption policies.
In addition, educational, outreach, and research programs should be launched to educate the general public not only about advances in science and engineering but also about applications in urban systems, changes in human behavior, and economic and policy analyses.
Managing our nation’s successful transition to sustainable energy will require the development and implementation of a comprehensive and multitiered energy and sustainability policy formulated in collaboration with the key stakeholders including government, industry, and academia. It will also require the education of the general public in sustainable practices as well as in the decision-making process.