It might be fun to do a few posts on how nanoscale science can be used to the benefit of our energy concerns. First, let me specify what I mean when I say that there's an "energy problem". The fact is, average people enjoying first-world standards of living (e.g., US/Canada/Western Europe/Japan) have an enormous per capita energy consumption compared to, e.g., tribesmen in sub-Saharan Africa, or rural farmers in the hinterland of China. If the goal is to raise the standard of living of the 5-ish billion people not enjoying the high life, and to get everyone up to a high standard of living, then we've got a problem: there's no nice way to do so without incurring other enormous costs (e.g., burning enormous quantities of fossil fuels; building GW-scale power plants at very high rates, like several per day for the next 30 years). Either we're not going to raise that standard of living for those billions of people, or the energy costs for the top economic tier are going to have to fall, or we're headed for major upheaval (or possibly some of all of the above).
When I teach my second-semester nano class, I point this out, and if you want interesting quantitative references, check here. Broadly construed, nanotechnology and nanoscale science (and more broadly, condensed matter physics and materials science) can try to address several aspects of this challenge, though there are certainly no silver bullets. The areas that come to mind are: energy generation; energy storage; energy distribution; conservation or improved efficiency; and environmental remediation. In future posts, I'll try to summarize very briefly a few thoughts on this.