Power Surge predicts a turbulent next decade, as large energy companies struggle to preserve the status quo and newer firms and their environmental allies fight to change government policy and open up energy markets to greater competition. Some giant oil, auto, and utility companies may find themselves in the current position of IBMovertaken by competitors who are better able to anticipate the coming revolution.
The world energy economy is poised for a sweeping shift away from imported oil and environmentally damaging coal during the next few decades, according to the findings in Power Surge, the latest book from the Worldwatch Institute. Pushed by the need to stabilize the earth's climate, and pulled by the investment opportunities that beckon, global energy markets are beginning a rapid move to more efficient, decentralized, and cleaner systems, echoing the shift from mainframe to personal computers during the 1980s. Among the emerging changes expected: a new generation of lightweight, super-efficient electric cars that can be refueled at home; the rapid conversion of coal and nuclear plants to efficient gas turbines; a new generation of mass-produced wind and solar generators that are cost-competitive with the most advanced fossil plants; tiny fuel cells and rooftop solar panels that allow people to generate their own electricity; and the gradual emergence of nonpolluting hydrogen as the world's main energy carrier, supplanting oil and natural gas. The authors of Power Surge, Christopher Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen, have identified recent deployments of new energy technologies by enterprising engineers, small entrepreneurs, and eccentric tinkerers in countries around the world, providing an early glimpse of the massive changes ahead.