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WHAT'S NEXT?

If there is to be another great act of national planning comparable to those previously discussed, what might it be? One widely discussed possibility is a major remaking of the national electric grid. Concerns about climate change and about a range of issues loosely grouped under the term energy security have led many to visualize a clean electric energy economy that is much less dependent on overseas energy sources and less dependent on fossil fuels in general. Major sources of energy for this new regime would be natural gas and nonfossil fuel modes such as nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. If the technology for carbon sequestration proves out (an unknown at this time), "clean coal" may also be part of the solution.

Conversion of major segments of the economy, like transportation, to electric power would require much more grid capacity than we now have and might also require new pathways from places of production to places of use. Other goals that have been mentioned include greater system reliability and reduced energy losses from long-distance transmission of power. If the past is any guide, the federal role would involve a general setting of directions and a combination of sticks and carrots, probably more of the latter, with detailed planning and implementation done primarily by state or local governments and the private sector. One very loose parallel might be the massive and very successful rural electrification program begun by the Rural Electrification Administration during the Great Depression.

A noted in Chapter 15, the United States has large supplies of natural gas, and the present cost is a fraction of that of petroleum. If the environmental problems connected with extraction (the pollution of groundwater by fracking, referred to earlier) can be resolved, liquefied natural gas (LNG) might replace a large part of the petroleum now used for transportation. The reduction in the U.S. balance of trade deficit and the increase in employment could be very large. For that replacement to occur, a nationwide system for making LNG as available as gasoline is now would be required. Developing such a system may well be a major act of national planning analogous to that discussed earlier for electric power.

 
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