Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future

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  • 5.6 Conclusion

    Renewable energy in its many forms offers immense opportunities for technological progress and innovation

    Over the next 30–60 years sustained efforts must be directed toward realizing these opportunities as part of a comprehensive strategy that supports a diversity of resource options over the next century. The fundamental challenge for most renewable options involves cost-effectively tapping inherently diffuse and in some cases intermittent resources. Sustained, long-term support—in various forms—is needed to overcome these hurdles. Renewable energy development can provide important benefits in underdeveloped and developing countries because oil, gas, and other fuels are hard cash commodities.


      Implement policies—including policies that generate price signals for avoided carbon emissions—to ensure that the environmental benefits of renewable resources relative to non-renewable resources will be systematically recognized in the marketplace.
      Provide subsidies and other forms of public support for the early deployment of new renewable technologies. Subsidies should be targeted to promising but not-yet-commercial technologies and decline gradually over time.
      Explore alternate policy mechanisms to nurture renewable energy technologies, such as renewable portfolio standards (which set specific goals for renewable energy deployment) and ‘reverse auctions’ (in which renewable energy developers bid for a share of limited public funds on the basis of the minimum subsidy they require on a per kilowatt-hour basis).
      Invest in research and development on more transformational technologies, such as new classes of solar cells that can be made with thin-film, continuous fabrication processes. (See also biofuels recommendations under conclusion 7.)
      Conduct sustained research to assess and mitigate any negative environmental impacts associated with the large-scale deployment of renewable energy technologies. Although these technologies offer many environmental benefits, they may also pose new environmental risks as a result of their low power density and the consequently large land area required for large-scale deployment.

    Needed actions

      Governments should substantially facilitate the use—in an environmentally sustainable way—of renewable energy resources through adequate policies and subsidies. A major policy step in this direction would include implementing clear price signals for avoided greenhouse gas emissions.
      Governments should also promote research and development in renewable energy technologies by supplying significantly more public funding.
      The private sector, aided by government subsidies, should seek entrepreneurial opportunities in the growing renewable energy market.
      The science and technology community should devote more attention to overcoming the cost and technology barriers that currently limit the contribution of renewable energy sources.
      NGOs can assist in promoting the use of renewable energy sources in developing countries.
      The media can play an essential role in heightening the general public’s awareness of issues related to renewable energy.