70% of electricity in the US now is generated by renewables, and natural gas from fracking is on the decline, says a presidential hopeful in a campaign speech in 2052. He promises voters that if elected he “will ensure completion of the energy transition”.
My fellow Americans, I am pleased to announce today my candidacy for President of the United States. We have just turned the corner on the first half of the 21st century, a time of significant change for our country and many other countries. In 2052 it is time to consolidate and reaffirm those changes that are beneficial, and plan for the coming decades.
The 21st century has been an American century, but not exclusively – other parts of the world have demonstrated global leadership both economically and politically in these past 50 years – and it is encumbent on a new set of U.S. leaders to continue the American century in peaceful and meaningful cooperation with our global partners. Before discussing my plans for the future I would like to review what I see as the history and the accomplishments of the century’s first fifty years.
The century began as an extension of the 20th century – multiple national conflicts, internal dissension in many countries, and heavy dependence on traditional fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Global population continued to increase – having grown from 1.8 billion to more than 6 billion in the past century – and is expected to reach as much as 10 billion sometime before the turn of the current century. That number in 2052 is just under eight billion.
Increasing electrification was an important characteristic of the 20th century and will continue to define the 21st century as well. It is allowing increasing numbers of people to enjoy the energy services that access to electricity and other forms of energy brings – lighting, heating, cooling, communication, transportation, and the ability to make things quickly and in quantity. Today, fewer than five percent of the world’s population lacks access to reliable electricity supplies, and this number should reach zero in the next two decades. Essentially all have access to wireless devices that allow widespread communication and access to the world’s store of information.
One day Americans awakened to the fact that much of their energy, especially for transportation, was imported from abroad, and that such supplies were subject to political uncertainties beyond our control
This access to energy, the closely related access to clean water, and wireless capability have significantly reduced global poverty and greatly enhanced opportunities for learning. The education revolution that has been made possible by universal access to the internet, for both women and men, and the individualized learning that the computer revolution has made possible, together with energy access, has finally allowed a slowdown in the rate of population growth so that a stabilized global population may be achievable in my lifetime.
This century has also seen other powerful changes. In 2008 our country elected its first black President, and then reelected him in 2012 as affirmation of their good judgement four years before. In 2016 the U.S., after a lengthy and often nasty presidential campaign, elected its first female president, who once and for all showed that women can serve effectively at the highest levels of our political life. Together with the military opening all its ranks to female participation in 2015, the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ was finally shattered, never to be restored.
That election also saw the election of a Vice President of Hispanic ethnicity, who eventually went on to become the 47th President of the United States. Today I am trying to shatter still another political barrier by attempting to become the first Muslim American to receive the nomination for President of a major political party.
Colonies on Mars
While much has changed in the past five decades, and I will discuss one of the most important changes in detail shortly, not everything has changed, unfortunately. We are still human beings, with all our many shortcomings, and religious and racial intolerance are still major sources of pain and conflict in the modern world. While the threat of Islamic jihadism that arose forcefully in the first few decades of the century has been reduced significantly through the actions of a global coalition of Muslim and non-Muslim governments, remnants are still with us and require careful attention. As our President I would commit all the resources needed, in cooperation with our allies, to keep this threat under control. A major factor in controlling this threat has been the willingness of Sunni and Shiite governments to put aside their religious differences In the name of their overriding commonality, Islam.
We owe much to our fossil fuel resources, the product of millions of years of transformation of organic materials subject to high temperatures and extreme pressures deep in the earth
Among the other changes we have seen in our lifetime is the establishment of the first human colonies on the moon and on Mars. The moon colony was a joint U.S.-Chinese achievement in 2032, just twenty years ago, and the first Mars colony of four people was established just 8 years ago, in 2044. Both were extraordinary events at the time, and commanded global attention, but as is true of so many achievements in outer space the existence of the colonies is becoming part of the background. That is an OK result as we want space travel to become a routine part of the mainstream.
Other major steps forward have been in the field of medicine. With advances in DNA measurement and manipulation personalized treatment has become routine for many gene-related diseases. It is not unusual today to see people living into their second centuries and still functioning normally. Of course the social security and related safety-net systems in the U.S. have had to be adjusted for this new longevity, and as you might expect, only after long and difficult political battles.
Finally, let me talk in some detail about the most important revolution of the 21st century, one I have worked hard to support in my current position as a U.S. Senator. It is one that I am committed to support and advance if I am privileged to serve as your President. That is the energy revolution that started in the latter part of the 20th century, took flight during the early decades of the 21st, and is today reaching all parts of the globe. It is a transition point in human history.
The 1973-74 Oil Embargo, which took place almost a century ago, was a brutal wake up call for many nations, including our own. The history books tell many stories about how Americans, for the first time, began to look at energy issues in a different light.
Prior to the Embargo energy costs were sufficiently low that it was not an area of public concern. Then, one day Americans awakened to the fact that much of their energy, especially for transportation, was imported from abroad, and that such supplies were subject to political uncertainties beyond our control. This was true in the countries of Western Europe as well.
We responded by creating the International Energy Agency, a mechanism for sharing oil reserves among countries if another embargo threatened our energy supplies. We also started looking at energy alternatives, with particular emphasis on nuclear power. In fact the public mantra at that time by our political leaders was a doubling every decade of the number of nuclear power plants deployed in the U.S.
A few others raised concerns about nuclear power and called for examination of enhanced energy efficiency and renewable energy alternatives. Until that time renewable energy had not been seriously considered except in the case of hydroelectricity. The suggestion related to enhanced energy efficiency was dismissed by economists and others who saw economic growth (GDP) tied one-to-one with energy consumption, and renewables were attacked as too expensive and incapable of meeting the demands of the U.S. economy.
Nuclear fission power had its day as well, but the issues associated with its use – cost, safety, long term storage of wastes, and weapons proliferation – have proved too difficult to accept
These arguments persisted for several decades until it was shown that GDP and energy consumption were not directly linked, climate change associated with combustion of fossil fuels became a major global issue, the costs of renewable energy systems began to decrease, and the ability of renewable energy in the form of electricity, biofuels, and heat were shown capable of supporting large economies. These new realities became the focus of policy debates in the first two decades of the century, and finally came to govern U.S. energy policy in the third decade when the majority of the private sector finally put its full support behind renewables and the battle to limit global warming.
All Presidents since the Obama era have supported a move away from dependence on fossil fuels – it was 80% at the turn of the century – and Congress finally placed a steadily increasing cost on carbon emissions in 2020. This created the economic environment needed for investment in clean energy technologies and reduced use of fossil fuels. It allowed the U.S. to finally catch up with the many other countries that had seen the importance of these changes and implemented appropriate policies many years before.
Turned a corner
These changes have led to today’s energy situation in the U.S. – 70% of electricity is generated by solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal. Natural gas from tracking peaked in 2040 and is steadily being replaced as an energy source in power plants as renewables take over, petroleum from fracking of oil shale peaked at about the same time and has been used to power aging and disappearing transportation fleets.
Electric vehicles dominate the automobile and light duty truck markets. All new aircraft and ships are designed to run on alternative biofuels. Energy efficiency has been enshrined as the cornerstone of national energy policy. Coal has been replaced as a domestic energy source except in a few industries. Nuclear power’s share of electricity generation has been steadily reduced to its current value of 5%.
My promise to you as your President will be to continue and strengthen this transition in all ways possible so that our children, grandchildren, and their heirs, will live in a world free of global warming and the other harmful impacts of burning fossil fuels
Total national energy demand has been stable even as the U.S. population has increased to 400 million. All new homes are routinely outfitted with solar energy rooftop systems and ground source heart pumps wherever feasible. The U.S. leads the world in wind turbine and wind energy production. We are second only to China in offshore wind energy deployment and production. Battery energy storage has become as ubiquitous as any other household appliance.
The world has turned a corner in these past 50 years, undergoing an inevitable transition to dependence on energy from the sun and heat derived from radioactive decay in the core of the earth. These clean energy sources will last as long as people populate the earth, unlike fossil fuels which are depletable on any timescale relevant to humankind.
We owe much to our fossil fuel resources, the product of millions of years of transformation of organic materials subject to high temperatures and extreme pressures deep in the earth, but the fossil fuel era is coming to an end and will eventually be only a blip on the timeline of history.
My promise to you as your President will be to continue and strengthen this transition in all ways possible so that our children, grandchildren, and their heirs, will live in a world free of global warming and the other harmful impacts of burning fossil fuels.
Nuclear fission power had its day as well, but the issues associated with its use – cost, safety, long term storage of wastes, and weapons proliferation – have proved too difficult to accept now that renewable energy has been shown up to the task of meeting societal needs. Nuclear fusion, a much cleaner form of nuclear energy, remains as a long term possibility as well, but progress in taming the process that powers our sun and other stars has been slow and time will tell if controlled nuclear fusion has a future here on earth. I support continued cooperation with other countries in researching this technology that offers unlimited energy availability but so far has always been a few years away.
Our investments largely must go into renewable technologies to ensure completion of the transition. This is our legacy to the future.
Allan Hoffman, former Senior Analyst in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), writes a regular blog: Thoughts of a Lapsed Physicist. On Energy Post, we regularly publish posts from Allan’s blog, which often deal with issues at the intersection of energy technology, policy and markets.