If somebody were to ask you about the biggest challenge facing the planet and mankind’s future, what would you say? Global terrorism? World leaders and politicians who place self-interest above the common good? Maybe an asteroid, or for those with a vivid imagination and a sense of humor, a zombie apocalypse?
In point of fact, there is something else that looms far larger and has potential consequences that are just as frightening, and that is our ever-escalating need for energy compared with constantly dwindling traditional resources to create it.
The American love of oil
Americans love their cars, trucks and cheap gas – even if it is not as cheap as it used to be – but their love of oil does not stop there. Oil provides more than 30 percent of America’s energy needs. Natural gas provides a further 30 percent, and Americans are fortunate that the additional reserves of shale that have been unlocked by modern drilling methods have made the US the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas.
The problem is in the word “reserves.” These are finite resources, and humans cannot be blind to the fact that they will not last forever. If people continue to rely so heavily on fossil fuels, then they only succeed in creating a bigger problem for their children and their children’s children.
The growth of renewables
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s will know that solar, nuclear and wind energy are not modern inventions. However, the point is that back then, it seemed impossible to imagine that they could present any more than a drop in the ocean when it came to meeting demand and could certainly never wean people off their reliance on fossil fuels.
Today, renewable energy sources are far more viable than in those early years. Solar panels have increased in efficiency by some 98 percent over the past 30 years, but at the same time, their costs have come down. State grants make solar a great option for every household to do its part in contributing to the nation’s energy demands.
Then there is wind energy. Almost $150 billion of investment has been ploughed into this technology over the past decade, and wind energy now supplies around five percent of America’s energy needs. That might sound small, but at the current rate of growth, it could rise to 25 percent by the year 2030.
The same pattern is being seen in mainland Europe, where areas to the north are covered in wind turbines, and the UK is rapidly looking as if it is surrounded by alien flotillas in the shape of offshore wind farms.
Thinking outside the box
The development and investment in renewable energy is laudable indeed and provides an ever-growing component of energy needs, in America and the wider world. However, it is important to note that as quickly as these technologies improve, the world’s population increases, and so does its need for energy.
With the best will in the world, the increase in renewables will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and help them last a little longer. This is a far cry from solving the future energy crisis and will still leave the next generations with a major headache.
It is with this in mind that some blue-sky thinking raises tantalizing possibilities. Italian inventor and entrepreneur Andrea Rossi has come up with a possibility that could completely redefine the way that people think about energy production. His E-Cat cold fusion generator infuses hydrogen into nickel, transmuting it into copper and at the same time producing an excess of heat.
The technology is at a very early stage of development, but with refinement, it could lead to the “holy grail” of clean energy production on a large scale that scientists have been looking for since the first days of the Industrial Revolution.
Creating a better tomorrow
The E-Cat has been the subject of plenty of debate, controversy and criticism over the past three years, but it has also created a huge wave of excitement over the possibilities that it raises.
Critics claim that it must “defy the laws of physics,” but we can only note that a hundred years ago, any observers would have said exactly the same about most of the technology that we take for granted in 2017.