The future of energy is going to be awesome. Everyone will drive an electric car, powered by the sun. We’ll completely eliminate our need to burn coal or natural gas, and nuclear power will be thing of the past.
No, wait. The future of energy is going to be terrible. Peak oil will catch us off guard. Combating climate change will mean abandoning modern conveniences. Within a generation, we’ll all be living like it’s 1899.
These two predictions couldn’t be more different, but they do have one thing in common: They both make the future of energy sound awfully exciting. Whether you’re pessimistic or optimistic, you get the feeling that everything is going to change, and fast.
But what if it doesn’t?
I spent the last two years working on a book about the future of energy in the United States. Called Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us, it’s about the big picture. From solar panels on the community college to energy-efficient lighting in government offices—all those little projects you read about in the newspaper are adding up to something big, and those trends will shape what we can (and can’t) do next. But while researching my book, I noticed something important. The future of energy is probably going to be a little boring.
And that’s OK. When we look at the future of energy, our goal shouldn’t be to create a utopia. We’d fail at that, in any case, because no source of energy is perfect. Reality is messy. Instead, our goal should be to take what we have and make it more sustainable. That’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Like the first utility companies, we’re doing a lot of experimentation here and there’s no one right answer for how to make all the parts fit together. That’s what you see reflected in the two 2030s predicted by IGSM. And that’s why 2030 is likely to be kind of boring. Boring is the first step in building something amazing.