The prospect of the $50 barrel of oil is focusing the minds of the West’s policy makers and business leaders nicely. The last time we had a proper oil crisis the rich economies comprehensively cocked it up and wound up more dependent on oil and its fragile producer network than ever before – one of the twentieth century’s great missed opportunities (try to picture the world now with the oil producers reduced to suppliers of a secondary energy source… It’s a different place all together and one in which 9/11 and Iraq would probably never have happened).
This time I think we’ll get it right, though. The planet-wide rush for alternatives – hydrogen in particular – will be faster and more widespread than anyone expects. You will be driving a hybrid SUV or a fuel cell car in ten years and the Northern European economies, in particular, will get the majority of their domestic power from renewables within twenty-five (the NIMBYs, meanwhile, will need to be marginalised – we have no choice this time round).
Business Week on the unexpected revival of solar power. The Economist’s excellent survey of the car industry (Economist surveys are free, I think, but may require free registration), including this piece about electric cars. James Surowiecki in Wired Magazine points out that Hybrids are already selling fast with practically no advertising, no real Government subsidy and no track record. MSNBC on a fascinating and possibly Quixotic effort to kick-start hydrogen without waiting for fuel cells by converting ordinary internal combustion engines to run on H².
This last, from a firm entertainingly called Intergalactic Hydrogen is particularly interesting because it looks like it might be one of those tipping point projects. They don’t want to convert us all. They’ll probably convert thousands to tens-of-thousands of rich Americans to hydrogen – for reasons of altruism, fashion or paranoia – but they’ll seed suburbia with hydrogen refueling stations and they might just produce the kind of critical mass necessary to trigger mass adoption.