The generation and use of energy has such a huge impact on the economy, politics, security and the environment that it is our Grand Challenge. Our reliance on short term market forces to solve these energy problems has left us in a disastrous position.
We all know that market forces are incredibly powerful, but not everyone understands that those forces are not always aligned for the long term good. It is our responsibility to recognize the urgency of addressing the problems of the generation and use of energy. This must be the highest national priority. We need a mechanism to bring the focus of the brightest minds in the nation to bear on this problem.
Fortunately, we have an example from the past that was spectacularly successful: ARPA and the development of computer technologies through university funding. The computer revolution was launched with this amazing program. This was politically enlightened, although politicians received no credit for their support even though the computer and communication revolution is recognized world wide. This lack of credit was unfortunate since our elected officials are not rewarded for long term thinking. Nevertheless, the effect of this public policy anomaly was profound. My own area of computer graphics in entertainment is a direct result of that ARPA funding. Everyone now sees the results in movies and in games, yet very few know the origins of these amazing changes. My funding in graduate school all came from ARPA and I am deeply grateful for the policies of those times.
Even though DARPA no longer has the right mind-set to effect change, the ARPA model of the '70s was incredibly effective: fund many smart people at universities around the nation to attack all aspects of the generation and use of energy. These are solvable problems and it requires focused effort by many intelligent people working on a wide range of engineering and scientific disciplines. We have the best university system in the world and the channeling of the incredible talent in these universities towards energy challenges will solve problems, create new businesses, and perhaps save the nation.
After the energy wake-up call in the '70s, we went back to sleep and now are paying the price in so many ways. I come with the point of view that you need to solve your problems when you are healthy rather than when the crisis hits, which means we are a bit late. In fact most people, businesses, and governments do not address their deep problems when they are healthy. The only way out of this mess is to recognize that this is our real Grand Challenge and that engineering and scientific solutions must and can be found.