Are we preparing for energy politics of the future?

October 01 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 2

Politics is always playing catch up to the future. While most energy issues revolve around changes to the status quo, other opportunities allow political leaders to fund basic research and help grow emerging industries.

But what about other pieces to the energy puzzle that are not central to today’s political campaigns? Or messages that seem to contradict today’s politic themes? What might be beyond the politics of oil trade and peak production? Or other cleantech ideas beyond solar and wind?

Many people believe that we are only at the beginning of an important age of energy politics. And we speculate that the hardest political conversations might be about changes in electricity grids and the control of energy flows, and the ethical issues of bio energy.

Here are two other issues that might shape the future of energy politics – global interdependence and synthetic biology.

Energy Independence vs Global Interdependence
Oil is on everyone’s radar. And common sense says rally behind the political message of the day energy independence especially with gasoline. But oil has been a globally integrated industry for decades, and undoing those relationships requires a very serious debate about what is good and bad about trade. What might complicate the future politics of energy independence is our ‘dependence’ on oil is the world’s other major resource: natural gas.

Last summer T Boone Pickens- launched a multi-million dollar television media campaign for America’s future. A central theme was energy independence via wind for power generation and shifting natural gas towards transportation fuel.

But what if the global natural gas market is only just starting to expand around liquefied natural gas? And if the US did shift to domestic natural gas for transportation fuel, wouldn’t this market be global in nature?

Or on the very positive side of renewable energy systems? What if the US or China’s clean tech industry dropped the cost of new energy systems? Would we want those products kept within a national border or delivered around the world?

Might the energy politics of the future be about thinking more globally and pushing towards further interdependence?

And if energy independence does remain a central theme, what about the politics of US and Chinese coal?

Enter energy politics of coal and synthetic biology

Carbon Politics & Synthetic Biology
Coal is not going away anytime soon. It dominates the market share of US electricity production and is the fastest growing fuel source for China.

This means that we should expect public debates about the role of coal to expand greatly in the months and years ahead – especially around the notion of clean coal.

The political discussion is certain to be intense.

Last week while speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, Al Gore called on young people seeking real change in energy politics as usual to protest against new coal-fired power plants without adequate carbon capture and storage technology.

But in other cities around the world entrepreneurs and researchers are calling on young people to read up on biology and nanoscale science to accelerate solutions to coal emissions. They believe that carbon eating microorganisms might hold promise in reducing harmful emissions from coal plants.

So instead of protesting carbon emissions, bio energy advocates encourage entrepreneurs to find a way to make money from carbon as feedstock to grow more energy resources. But arriving at this future requires us to hold serious conversations about re-engineering algae and bacteria. This is the potential of synthetic biology and it goes far beyond carbon politics as usual.

The energy politics of tomorrow is certain to keep us engaged!

Read other posts:
Dear Al Gore, Did you forget about biology?-
Steve Jurvetson on bioenergy-
Steve Jurveston and Bill Green on algae biofuels-

Image from MyBarackObama Amanda Scott

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