t was 63 years ago this month that TV screens flickered with a new TV hero: The Lone Ranger. His calling card was a silver bullet, synonymous with a quick, single and reliable answer to a problem.
Unfortunately, there's no quick, single and reliable answer to the energy needs our homes and industries face today.
Energy is an issue that is critical across the nation, superseding competitive issues of cities and regions. As states — and as a nation — we may rise and fall on the way we innovate and build this essential part of our economic development foundation.
We'll have to take a top-down, bottom-up approach by diversifying our energy sources, improving delivery through advanced technologies and becoming more energy-wise customers.
It takes a dedicated community of companies and individuals to provide critical thinking to these issues and move the needle forward in innovation; clusters of business leaders, engineers, educators, investors and citizens who can influence the national dialogue on energy. That's critical more than ever because our energy demands are surging.
Our seemingly insatiable needs
Back in 1949, it took a relatively modest amount of household electricity — 213 million British thermal units per capita (Btu) — to power TVs and other necessities. In 2010, we averaged 317 million Btu per capita in energy use, a whopping 48-percent hike from 1949's level.
Today, fossil fuels still largely juice our homes and businesses, but our nation's energy mix is evolving. Carbon-free nuclear energy now contributes about 20 percent to our total electricity mix. Low-cost natural gas has become a popular way to generate power, including as a clean transportation fuel. In recent years, renewable energy — geothermal, solar, wind, conventional hydroelectric power and biomass — has gained market share, though still a modest part of the power mix.
Advanced technologies can also improve the way we manage energy. For example, smart grid applications will be able to monitor and measure our energy patterns and guide our efficiency. We'll be able to predict spikes and deliver energy where and when it's needed, control usage and develop more reliable systems. Greater efficiency combined with conservation can help address the energy demands of our growing population.
A Call to Action
Michael Porter recently released, "Prosperity At Risk: Findings of Harvard Business School's Survey on U.S. Competitiveness." In the Carolinas we pay particular attention to one charge he lays out to American industry:
"... Business can and must be a positive part of the solution to America's competitiveness problem. Individually and collectively, firms can upgrade the business environment in the communities where they operate — by supporting educational institutions, building shared infrastructure, investing in workforce skills, deepening clusters..."
That charge is one basis of a new energy organization — E4 Carolinas — that is building the network of a broad spectrum of energy businesses in the Carolinas. E4 Carolinas is governed by energy executives who will drive work-force development, energy policy and energy innovation.
The new effort is growing from the more than 200 energy-oriented organizations and 20,000 employees around the Charlotte region. The Carolinas have energy concentrations in major disciplines such as nuclear, clean tech, manufacturing, engineering and research activities. Multinational markets already served by Carolinas energy firms weave a natural fabric for industry growth across four central threads of the industry: Energy, Economy, Environment and Efficiency.
One nation under energy
An energy cluster is important because the energy challenge we face has no single solution ... one person or company won't ride to the rescue. There is no silver bullet.
Now that Republicans and Democrats have had their conventions, the official political season is under way. Site selectors, economic developers and significant energy customers can help reinforce an important energy theme to all policymakers, both in office and running for office: Solving our nation's energy issues, which undergirds our economic health, demands a collaborative and comprehensive effort, and that is expected of all policymakers.
Energy is an American need. An "all of the above" approach enhances energy security through diversification. Intelligent policy initiatives that enhance varied energy generation, wise energy management and promote collaborative problem-solving open doors to an energy future that benefits us all.