Short-term stop-gaps and longer-term potential

While using mechanically-based alternative-energy sources as stop-gaps prioritize exponentially-improving developments in solar and 3rd-generation biofuels


The next True Costings for oil and energy suppliers to take a lead on – so as to end up pulling governments rather than being ‘encouraged’ by them – are alternative energy-sources. Although wind-power and wave-power are attractive stop-gaps, their True Costings suffer because the cost of the primarily-mechanical technology that underpins them is largely fixed and can never dramatically drop in the same way that something that is essentially electronic can. Although wind farms and wave farms benefit from economies-of-scale, their cost of manufacture and maintenance can never fall exponentially over time. Solar technology, in contrast, has much greater long-term potential because it is linked to the exponential growth of the High-Tech supertrend – primarily in the form of nanotech developments for solar cells and storage devices.

Similarly, although first-generation biofuels failed to live up to their hype, second-generation versions derived from waste products or grown on marginal land should have better True Costing. For example, biodiesel can be made from vegetable oil produced from the seeds of Jatropha – a plant that can be grown on marginal land. Current proposals for third-generation biofuels are based on the potential commercialization of lab experiments that farm algae and then turn the sludge into (biodegradable) fuel. That seems a great idea, but it still needs a lot more development. Fortunately, as with solar-research, biotech is on an exponential path. As a result, it is those two classes of long-term alternative-energy that should be prioritized both for private investment and as components of comprehensive government energy-security strategies.