In the last five years the world has seen ever more conflict over that basic resource, so essential to the modern industrialized economy, energy. Real wars are being fought over fossil fuels on four continents, and the two big gorillas, America and China, are in a silent duel over control of foreign sources of oil and gas.
What has happened to the great promise of solar power, fuel cells and synthetic biology? By now we should have seen real results from the alternative energy revolution, but the energy crisis is as dire as ever.
Craig Venter promised to design synthetic algae that could be harvested for ‘green crude’ – oil feedstock for biodiesel – but he’s still up to his elbows in pond slime. Amyris built a plant to convert sugar into better fuels than ethanol, but have abandoned their operation as uneconomic.
China still produces the most solar panels in the world, and India is snapping them up at bargain prices. In the summer of 2012, Germany produced enough solar energy to power half the country, but demand remains on an upward curve.
Perhaps the low prices for shale gas from fracking put the brakes on new energy technologies for too long, and now the current boom is sucking up whatever resources are available. So much so, that rebels are attacking oil companies in Africa, and motorists are pushing and shoving in fuel queues from Shanghai to Zimbabwe.
The energy industry needs a Black Swan, or perhaps that’s a Golden Goose?