11 July 2008

the future of energy determines our fate

At times, I can be rather impressionable. My outlook on the state of the world can dramatically shift depending on what information I'm exposed to. Right now I'm on an optimistic upswing. I've been reading the Economist's special energy report (June 21-27, 2008) and it's stirring hope in me that all isn't lost. Let me explain.

The biggest of big business is jumping on the renewable energy band wagon. GE, historically one of the biggest polluters of our time,[1] is in the wind energy business (the corporate spiel here). GM, makers of the most gas-guzzlingest of SUVs (Hummer, Escalade, Suburban), is putting out a plug-in car (the Volt) for 2010. And they just closed 4 SUV plants and may be selling their Hummer division. (More about the closing plants and future of GM's small cars here.)

The world is finally waking up to the fact that fossil fuels are a finite, and destructive, resource.[2] And if it weren't for the steadily climbing price of oil, the world wouldn't be scrambling to discover the next energy breakthrough. We'd all be continuing at breakneck speed to destroy the planet, sucking up the oil and burning up the coal and forgetting all about climate change.

The future of renewable energy is glaringly bright (grab your shades). And it's not just solar that's shining the way. There's wind, of course, which may have the potential to power 15% of America by 2020.[3] Cellulosic and algael biofuels (a hell of a lot more efficient and sustainable than corn ethanol), improved nuclear, geothermal, wave energy, fuel cell and plug-in cars. There are so many opportunities to develop a mix of sources to feed our addiction to power.

The shift to renewables will create a market explosion to surpass the dotcom boom (and bust), the rise of silicon valley, or any other tech sector boom because our life as we know it depends on it. The expansion of this industry in response to rising oil demand and prices leaves me feeling optimistic.

But tomorrow I could read about how the polar ice caps are all melting faster than we thought and we're all going to hell in a handbasket. Or get bummed out about the administration's plans for offshore drilling in protected waters (which by the way is a big waste of time and natural resources). But today, I'll bask in the sunny optimism of a renewable energy future.

[1] A little support on this claim, from:

[2] I'm burying the ugliness of fossil fuels here: wars, human rights issues, oil spills, cancer and poor air quality from coal-fired power plants (coal miners and everyone else), greenhouse gases, coal soot polluting arctic snow speeding its melt, mountaintop mining, peak oil.

[3] Source: Economist. The Future of Energy: Trade Winds. June 19, 2008.