The Geeky Obsession with Alternative Energy

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As oil trades for more than $70 a barrel in the New York and London commodities exchanges, talk of “peak” production swirls around in the media, and the demand for petroleum skyrockets in emerging countries such as India and China, many wonder just where the energy that fuels our economy will come from when this natural resource becomes too scarce and costly to be practical anymore. The answer might be from the same folks who brought us Windows, Java, Google and the Ethernet.


Geeks’ interest in new energy sources is not new. Maybe it’s the sci-fi in us, but we’ve always been particularly keen on what’s on the horizon. (Quick trivia question: Can anyone name the mineral that powers the Starship Enterprise? Send your answers to, and no Googling!) But we’re not just looking off into the future, either. We’re doing what we can in the present to help alleviate energy problems. Much of the market for hybrid cars has been driven (pun intended) by geeks—even before oil prices blasted off into the stratosphere—and our technical solutions brought about the telecommuting phenomenon, which saves energy resources by allowing people to work from home.


I receive an investment e-newsletter every day that gives me updates on how certain stocks, industries, etc. are performing. In a recent issue, it explained how tech moguls such as Bill Gates, Google co-founder Larry Page, Sun founder Vinod Khosla and Ethernet pioneer Robert Metcalfe have recently gone on a buying spree of shares in alternative energy companies, such as Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. and Xethanol Corp. One of the most popular targets for their investments has been Pacific Ethanol, which has seen its stock price nearly double in a month!


Of course, this isn’t to say that any of these companies will produce the next cheap, reliable power source for a combustible engine. But the interest in alternative energy from some of the wealthiest, smartest and most entrepreneurial people in the world is definitely a good sign. They might wind up revolutionizing the energy market in much the same way they’ve transformed the enterprise environment. Given past results, I wouldn’t bet against them.

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