New age for new energy

The coming year will see the greatest diversification of energy sources yet as the trend away from fossil fuels accelerates ­— and energy alternatives on multiple levels dominate. Long relegated to theory, political rhetoric or wishful thinking, new energy is becoming mainstream.

These new forms of energy progressively will replace fossil fuels in the same way the refrigerator replaced the ice box. This transformation has powerful economic and environmental impact, and geopolitical implications are monumental — though they take shape far more slowly.

As 2014 draws to a conclusion, oil prices have dropped dramatically. Shale production in the US is a factor. In fact, the first US facility to export liquefied shale gas to Europe and Asia will begin operations in Louisiana early in 2015. But the sharp decline in oil prices is far more reflective of declining demand. Weakening global economies are driving down demand, and thus prices, more than any other factor. Combined with emerging alternative fuel options, 2015 will mark the beginning of the grand finale for fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy makes a comeback

Outside the US, the most innovative nuclear energy development in 2015 will be in thorium, a safer, cleaner, readily available nuclear fuel. India and China are shaping ambitious development agendas around thorium. Meanwhile, new, simpler and cheaper designs of nuclear reactors in Europe and the US — including one that runs on other plants’ nuclear waste — will seek investors.

In renewable energy, the price of solar-generated electricity by 2015’s conclusion will reach or fall below that of conventional-grid electricity in more than 20 US states. Thanks to the self-help business models of SolarKiosk and the Solar Electric Light Fund, among others, solar energy also will continue to be the fastest-growing source of power in developing countries’ off-grid areas. “Green gasoline,” made from algae or even wood chips, will advance toward commercial relevance in 2015 with at least one US venture opening a commercial plant to produce gasoline and jet fuel from algae.

But today’s renewable energies are transition technologies to a hydrogen-powered economy and society. That transition will be marked in 2015 by two key developments: car makers’ introduction of fuel-cell-powered cars in key markets and the public announcement by New Jersey-based BlackLight Power of its SunCell, a device 20 years in the making that’s fueled by water. It yields clean energy in larger amounts than it consumes — the goal of energy research for more than a century.

The Middle East domino

Finally, the US and world at large have not been able to visualize a global geopolitical landscape absent the western world’s dependency on Middle East oil.

By the end of 2015, following a year of new energy products and services breaking into households, businesses and public domains across the globe, the geopolitical implications will begin to take shape

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