Many believe that technological breakthroughs and geopolitical circumstances have created the opportunity for the U.S. to become a leader in green technologies.
They also secretly hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Think back to the 1970s. During the first oil crisis, Nixon exhorted the nation to find ways to achieve energy independence. Congress passed the CAFE regulations that sought to double fuel efficiency in cars to 27.5 miles per gallon in ten years. California passed regulations to increase the efficiency of buildings and appliances. Exxon invented the lithium-ion battery.
A second oil shock came in 1979. Carter donned a cardigan and gas lines formed. Oil prices rose to $34 a barrel, or $70 in 2008 dollars.
Then the plot took a left turn. OPEC couldn’t control output and by 1986, oil prices had plummeted to $11. CAFE standards, over the objections of Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, were relaxed. Sony, not Exxon, made lithium ion a multibillion-dollar industry.
Take a look at the present. Natural gas has dropped from more than $10 for one million BTUs to below $5, putting pressure on solar, wind and geothermal, and it is cleaner than coal. Many politicians and voters are asking if cash-strapped governments should try to subsidize industry.
A near complete reversal like we saw in the '80s might be unlikely. Oil demand has grown from 57 million barrels a day to over 80 million a day and many researchers see peak oil around the corner. The cost of making solar modules has dropped from $21 per watt to under $1.
On the other hand, consumers have short memories. A few negative anecdotes from consumers with electric cars could crimp demand.
Which way will it go?
Read more on this topic in a joint effort by General Electric Ecomagination and Greentech Media, and join in on the conversation here.