Plans for the future energy system for the world must be connected to a vision of how people hope to live in 2050. That will happen only through significant changes in the way energy is generated, transported and enjoyed. So far, however, the world is not on the road to those changes, or to that future.

Success requires three big changes to the world’s energy architecture and to the way people see it. All of these solutions must be applied urgently to the non-OECD world where most of the expected energy demand growth will happen.

First, in order for these populations to enjoy many of the benefits that OECD citizens have long enjoyed, there must be a break in the historical connection that sees increased population and affluence lead to economic growth. This requires a great focus on solutions on the demand side. The new energy architecture must support growth in these countries, ensure energy access to the individuals who are denied access today, and do these things without increasing resource depletion and environmental impacts.

Second, the emphasis must be on the energy sources that people want to enjoy, rather than on the energy sources that they consume or use. Today, people consume and pay for far more energy than they use, and they use far more than they enjoy. Finding solutions that are affordable and realistic, especially where they are most needed in fast-growing cities in the non OECD world, is essential.

Third, energy policy and decision-making needs to be open to a much wider group of people, including those who can expect to live beyond 2050. Today’s powerful leaders and entities in the energy field have the knowledge and experience to build the new energy architecture, but their work must be connected directly to the aspirations of as many people as possible.

The year 2050 may seem a long way off, but energy requires long lead times. Action is needed in the next five years, and then continued, if change is to happen quickly enough.

 Author: Bob G. Elton  is Lead author and Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on New Energy Architecture.

 Image: A picture of the “Sunny Valley”, a structure that harnesses solar energy, at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo site in Shanghai REUTERS/Jianan Yu