8 Nov 2005
Pass the Dilithium Crystals Scotty…
The free energy argument is picking up momentum as the implications of peak oil kick in. At every talk I have given or been to on peak oil there is always a token free energy advocate, who once read a book by Viktor Schauberger or Nikolai Tesla, and who thinks that the US Government has had ownership of this technology for decades but has kept it secret, while at the same time, alongside powerful US corporations, it buys up the patents on any free energy machine developed anywhere, popping the plans in a drawer never again to see the light of day. It is a nice idea (and probably a convenient interpretation of the fact that actually no-one ever actually came up with a free energy machine because it is impossible…). It is reassuring to think that what Richard Heinberg calls ‘the magic elixir’ is out there somewhere, almost ready to go into production. We can all keep driving, business as usual will continue forever.
This story, ‘Fuel’s Paradise? Power source that turns physics on its head’, was in the Guardian the other day, which left me thinking that we probably will never hear of this guy again. Like so many of these amazing scientific breakthroughs, cures for cancer, the end of disease, they disappear without trace because there is actually not that much breakthrough there to speak of. There is clearly a lot of money and drive behind The Open Source Energy Network who have assembled testimonies from various scientists to the effect that free energy is here.
There is a problem with all this though, and it is a huge one. We have already had free energy for the last 100 years, and look what we have done with it. We have brought the earth to edge of collapse, and we have chronically overpopulated the planet. One thing you can be sure of about free energy is that it will be anything but ‘free’. It will be in the hands of large corporations, and do we really want the current US administration with its stated aims of global expansion to have free energy machines? In some ways our only hope is that they run out of oil!
Even if it is possible (and it is a vast, expansive IF), where do the raw materials come from for the cars, the rubber for the tyres, the asphalt for the roads, the glass, the steel and aluminium? Can you build houses out of free energy? This is delusional thinking and it is unfortunately one of the inevitable responses that we will see to peak oil. It is a fear based response that seeks to avoid the reality of the situation. It is like the man I met at a party recently who confidently assured me that in a few years we would all be driving nuclear powered cars.
Oil was a once off gift which we have almost completely wasted. We have built a society that depends on the infinite supply of the finite resource that created it. All we can do, as we stand here on the peak, is to design and create the infrastructure that we will need beyond oil, a localised and resilient economy that practices import substitution and local economics, not keep gazing whistfully at the horizon in hope of the imminent arrival of our free energy knight in shining armour. There is a very good reason why the only thing that has been developed since Viktor Schauberger’s death as a legacy of his work is copper spirals that you put near your water pipes, and egg shaped water jugs. We have no ‘trout turbines’, no flying saucers, no water powered machines. Free energy machines are a nonsense, and even if someone did come up with one they would be doing us and this planet a favour by suppressing the plans themselves and leaving the thing in the garage.
In his book ‘Beyond Oil – the view from Hubbert’s Peak’, Kenneth Deffeyes writes *”fifteen years ago we should have started investing heavily in alternative energies. That opportunity is now lost. There is no time for scholarly research. There is no time for engineers to develop new machinery. We have to face the next five years with the equipment designs that are already in production. It’s not going to be easy”*.