2009 : WHAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING?

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Editor, The Feuilleton (Arts and Essays), of the German Daily Newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich
A NEW APPROACH TO ENERGY PRODUCTION

It should be an easy transition. Instead of thinking about energy as a commodity to harvest, new sources of power will be manufactured. The medieval quest for new sources of that life force called energy will be over including all those white knights on horses conquering the wild lands where those sources happen to be. Technologically this will mean a shift from an energy industry dominated by geologists and engineers to a wave of innovations driven by biologists and chemists.

The thought process itself has already been set in motion. The surge of first generation bio-fuels has been based on the idea of renewable sources of energy. Still most alternative energies like solar and wind power are still based on the old way of thinking about harvesting. Most bio-fuels are preceded by a literal harvest of crops. Craig Venter's work on a microorganism that can transform CO2, sunlight and water into fuel is already jumping quite a few steps ahead.

This new approach will drastically reduce the EIoER formula, which has so far slowed down the commercial viability of most innovations in the search for alternative sources of energy. Any fuel that can be synthetically "grown" in a lab or factory will be economically much more viable for mass production than the conversion of sunlight, wind or agricultural goods.

Lab-based production of synthetic sources of energy will also end the geopolitical dependencies now tied to the consumption of power and thus change the course of recent history in the most dramatic fashion. This will eliminate the sources of many current and future conflicts, first and foremost in the Gulf region, but also in the Northern part of South America, in the Black Sea region and the increasingly exploitable Arctic.

The introduction of biological processes into the energy cycle will also minimize the impact of energy consumption on the environment. If made available cheaply, possibly as an open source endeavor, it will allow emerging nations to develop new arable land and create wealth while avoiding conflict and environmental negligence.

There could of course be downsides to the emergence of new sources of energy. Transitions are never easy, no matter how benign or progressive. The loss of economical and political power by oil- and gas-producing nations and corporations could become a new, if temporary source of conflict. Unforeseen dangers in the production might emerge impacting environment and public health. New monopolies could be formed.

The shift from harvesting to manufacturing energy would not only impact economy, politics and environment. Turning mankind from mere harvesters of energy into manufacturers would lead to a whole new way of thinking, that could lead to even greater innovations. Because every form of economical and technological empowerment always initiates leaps that go way beyond the practical application of new technologies. It's hard to predict where a new mindset will lead. One thing is for sure it almost always leads to new freedoms and enlightenments.