Energy Complexes and Transitions to Electromobility


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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.

  • In your opinion, can alternative energies and technologies such as  wind, solar, and electric vehicles displace the conventional fossil  fuels complex (i.e., do you agree or disagree with Vaclav Smil)?  For  example, what kinds of geopolitical and energy complex rivalries can you  identify as attending any transition from oil-fueled vehicles to  all-electric ones, and how might these rivalries be overcome?
  • In your estimation then, are all-electric vehicles, therefore, a realistic alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles?

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