The biggest single challenge for the next few decades is creating and distributing energy for 1010 people. We need a minimum of 10 terawatts per year from some new clean energy source by 2050. For worldwide prosperity and peace, energy needs to be cheap, widespread, and available. We can't make it using current technology alone.
We still have a long ways to go. Energy research needs more funding. Smalley had an idea for research to get a nickel for every gallon of oil product used in the U.S. That alone would generate $10 billion a year of extra research money for energy. The United States puts a boat load of money into energy production and distribution, as well as import, but not into energy research. Major investment would create a wealth of new technologies and could solve the energy problem by 2020.
The world energy landscape will change dramatically over the next 50 years. Technology will provide options. Leadership of the future world energy economy is up for grabs. The United States is currently focused on oil, gas, and hydrogen, although that may be changing since President George W. Bush signed the 2005 energy bill. The oil and gas energy industry (the largest industry in the world) invests the lowest percentage of any industry in research and development. Considering the size of the problem, that seems fairly short-sighted.
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