Energy Complexes, Alternative Energies and Transitions
Looking back on our earlier coverage of the eclipse of the coal complex by the oil complex starting with World War I, it is worth remembering the pitfalls of technology innovation and infrastructure development. As you recall the transition from coal to oil in transport, and the geopolitics of entrenched complexes, it is never simply the technical feasibility of an energy source or propulsion technology that determines which energy complex wins. The politics of these sectors matter a great deal for who gets financed, whose infrastructures get built (and whose do not), and which customers build out the demand for the energy source or technology (e.g., large governmental actors like navies, or upper class progressive customers).
Consider that Elon Musk of Tesla Motors has released all patents (Links to an external site.) related to his electric car innovations in the hope that it will stimulate greater electric car development across the world, giving his nascent complex a footing against that led by the oil majors from Houston (Links to an external site.). Yet, the components of electric cars are subject to geopolitical rivalries, such as competition for rare earth elements that go into the batteries and permanent magnet motors of electric car engines. Not the least of these rivalries concerns the interests of the private oil companies, which may wish to see their gasoline sales continue, and the Chinese government which dominates the mining of rare earth elements at present.
Bearing these considerations in mind and after reviewing this module’s readings as well as reflecting upon all of the modules’ review of how energy politics plays out, evaluate the questions below using that information that best helps your evaluation.