Program

America's Energy Future

Point of View by Sander Gerber, member, Wilson Center Board of Trustees

Feb 04, 2008

Energy has emerged as a major challenge for the 21st century. Some leaders are already labeling energy as the key factor in determining America's and the world's future. In America, we have built an economy, an infrastructure, and much of our society on the assumption of secure supplies of low-cost energy. That era is gone. Oil has already touched the $100-barrel mark and gives every indication of staying at record or near record levels.

The rise in oil prices reflects demand as well as the uncertainty of supply. Rising demand is driven by growth in China, India, and elsewhere around the globe. Conflict in the Middle East, rebels in Nigeria, and political shifts in Latin America highlight the role of political factors in energy prices. What should we do? Three elements will define America's energy future: Presidential and political leadership; individual's willingness to change behavior; and the need to turn our world-class innovation system toward a portfolio of new energy technologies.

When President Bush, in his 2006 State of the Union Address, said, "America is addicted to oil," and announced his Alternative Energy Initiative, he marked an historic turn in U.S. policy. This first step will require sustained, presidential leadership and cooperation with the nation's governors and Congress over the decades to come. We all must change the ways we do business and conduct our daily lives. Customer choice can drive energy efficiency in transportation, electronics, and housing. Just as we have taken a comprehensive view of surface transportation, we should take a systems approach to energy efficiency as our cities and regions continue to grow.

Innovation will be critical to securing our energy future. I do not, however, foresee a single silver bullet; after all, even the Lone Ranger had a six shooter. Instead, we must develop an entire portfolio of new sources of energy and new approaches to the use of nuclear power and hydrocarbons. Universities, national laboratories, and major companies are already attempting to drive advances in solar, wind, and hydrogen power.

As the CEO of a New York based hedge fund, I can see firsthand how the investment community is focused and willing to bear risk to incubate promising alternative and energy-saving technologies. With American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, I am confident we can meet the energy challenge and build an even better American dream in the 21st century.