As anyone who has taken a trip to a gas station in the past few years knows, energy prices are rising as the result of both supply constraints and political concerns. This isn’t likely to change anytime soon—even oil companies are acknowledging that the oil supply might not be able to keep up with demand by 2015. And while the world is making a migration towards renewables, progress is slow, to say the least. If the U.S. doesn’t act fast, it might find itself with a serious energy shortage.
Think of the brand-new Bureau of Energy Resources as a marriage of the Department of Energy and the State Department. The DOE is a technology-focused agency that has some geopolitical capabilities and the State Department is a diplomacy and international policy-focused agency with some technology capabilities. The Bureau of Energy Resources is intended to "merge and manage those two dialogues," explains Ambassador Carlos Pascual, the head of the new agency.
In practical terms, this means stimulating market forces for clean technology in other countries (creating demand for products where the U.S. has a competitive advantage), relieving poverty by increasing access to energy in developing countries, and ensuring affordable supplies of energy for the U.S. through diplomacy.
The Bureau of Energy Resources won’t only focus on clean technology. "We’re trying to give comparable attention to geopolitics and fossil fuels, alternative technology, and energy access," says Pascual. "All three have to be advanced in parallel. We have begun with [a staff] of around 53 people that are more or less equally divided among all three of those pillars."
In the Caribbean, the agency might work with a nation (such as Dominica) that has geothermal capabilities but little motivation to use them in limited domestic markets by advancing power interconnections between countries. In China, the bureau is looking at how shale gas growth can be environmentally sound. "I spent the first part of the week [before last] in Iraq working on fossil-fuel-related issues and the second half of the week in Vienna working on sustainable energy," says Pascual.
It’s not difficult to see why the U.S. needs a special bureau to navigate the increasingly turbulent energy climate. As Hillary Clinton recently admitted in a statement, "With a growing global population and a finite supply of fossil fuels, the need to diversify our supply is urgent."