Mainstream media, occasionally, publish some information
and comments on the hydrogen issue. Or, more broadly, on the
opportunities offered by renewable energy
sources. But these subjects arent treated as seriously as
they should. There is a prevailing, and quite absurd, notion
that we are hopelessly condemned to the use of fossil fuels
The problem isnt just that fossil reserves arent
inexhaustible and will come to an and in a few decades. The
worry isnt only the very serious, and increasing, damage to
the environment caused by burning ever-increasing quantities
of oil and coal.
There are also very unpleasant and dangerous economic and
political diseases caused by the concentration of resources.
The large fossil beds (coal, oil, gas) are in a few places
around the world. This causes dramatic unbalances. Transport
is cumbersome and accident-prone. The mammoth power plants are
inefficient and vulnerable and so are the large refineries.
Centralized systems are a disease, that can have dangerous,
sometimes catastrophic, consequences.
We can get out of this mess with solutions that are no
longer scientific theory, or laboratory experiments, but have
an established record of practical feasibility. One of their
many advantages is that they are infinitely
scaleable. Energy can be produced in large plants
or small, decentralized wherever its convenient. There is an
interesting analogy, in this sense, between the structure of
the internet and the production of energy with hydrogen (or
other renewable resources.)
Its no coincidence that Wired published an article in
its April 2003 issue, by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall,
Hydrogen Power Can Save America, in which this subject is
addressed quite aggressively (though its a bit myopic to
treat it only as an American problem and to ignore the
analogy with networking).
Its no coincidence that the first country to head for a
hydrogen economy is Iceland a leading country
in online activity (see the data section.)
If a totally oil-free economy can be realized in an
island with 300 thousand inhabitants, that confirms that it
can be done anywhere. In the world largest cities or in the
smallest villages. For a whole town or for a single
neighborhood or building. With enormous advantages for the
most advanced (and energy-consuming) economies
as well as for the emerging economies that lack
local, manageable sources of energy. No more pipelines, no
more tankers, no more long-range electric cables, no more
conditioning by those who own the fossil reserves o the tools
to exploit them. Infinitely renewable energy equally
available to all, from the skyscrapers in New York or
Shanghai to the remotest villages of Africa or Asia.
This is no longer a theory or a hypothesis. Its a
practically proven reality. And so is the decentralized,
infinitely scaleable structure of the net.
The concept of what we know as the internet existed in
the nineteenth century but it started to develop
practically only thirty years ago. The idea of energy from
hydrogen developed on a similar time scale. In by Jules
Vernes book Mysterious Island (1874) a sailor asks an
engineer what could be used to produce heat and energy when
we run out of coal. Water, he replies, And
explains that energy can be produced when oxygen and hydrogen
What Jules Verne didnt expect was the long, gloomy
period in which we have been burning oil. But now the time
has come to go for what he had seen, 130 year ago, as the
most obvious and effective solution.
In the case of the internet, we have a simple and
effective technical solution available to all, but we still
have a long way to go because in a large part of the world
access is scarcely available (if nor prohibited) and we
havent yet a full understanding of how to move away from the
homogenized, centralized, rigid information structure of the
industrial era. But the resources are there, we just have to
learn how to use them better.
In the case of energy, there were ways of producing
hydrogen in 1920. Since then there has been considerable
evolution of technologies. Probably there are more to come,
but we have enough practical knowhow to move ahead, here and
now. If it can be done in Iceland, why not everywhere else?
Its hard to think of any country or place in the world where
enough non-fossil, non-polluting, renewable energies cant
be found to produce all the hydrogen we want (as well as
satisfying some of the energy needs without even going
through the hydrogen process.)
It may be sunshine is some places, wind in others. Rivers
or tides, volcanic heat or thermal air flow, urban waste or
agricultural produce, etcetera. We dont need gas or oil
to make usable hydrogen. It is possible everywhere to change
to a fully sustainable, and non polluting, energy system.
We have the technical solutions to free ourselves from
oil or coal slavery. What we need is the cultural attitude,
the dedication, the will to make it happen. The big power
systems are probably unhappy about the demise of
centralization. But the advantages for humanity (and for the
environment) are so enormous that their nearsighted
resistance must be overcome. Worldwide availability of
inexhaustible, renewable, decentralized and clean
energy (as well as an infinite diversity of free. unhindered
information and communication) isnt a dream or a theory.
Its a practical opportunity that we cant afford to miss.