Does America Need A Big Rethink on Energy Issues?


Many experts believe that the key to America’s economic recovery rests in innovation and invention of clean and affordable energy.

In the 1800s, with the invention of the internal combustion engine (one that runs on fossil fuel) and the adaptation of that engine to people moving, the world was forever changed.

By 1896, an American inventor and automobile pioneer named Henry Ford had built his first horseless carriage. Thereafter, in 1903 Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company. He saw that this new invention of moving people by engine had the potential to revolutionize America and the world. He knew that an affordable people-mover that most Americans could afford and could be powered by cheap and abundant fuel would create a new and vast market almost overnight. Henry Ford’s application of the assembly line process of car building was as revolutionary as the invention of the internal combustion engine itself. By 1914, the assembly of a Model-T was so effective that it took a mere 93 minutes to build a car.

The irony is that if Henry Ford were alive today and went to any local Ford dealer, or any other car-maker for that matter, and popped the hood of any gasoline-powered car he would be shocked, amazed, and disappointed. He would be shocked and amazed at the computerized advancements and the gizmos and gadgets to enhance the driving experience. But he would be disappointed that little has changed in the 170 years or so since the invention of the internal combustion engine he manufactured.

In the past 135 years, it was America that invented 10 of the 13 greatest inventions that changed the world. Inventions like the telephone, light bulb, airplane, assembly line, television, nuclear reactor, personal computer, Internet, Windows Operating System, and cell phone are all attributable to American ingenuity; the great inventions in our lifetime have come in computers.


But, where are our other great inventions and inventors? How many gas crises must we endure? How much more beholden to foreign sources of fossil fuel must we be? We should want to be clean and more efficient not because it’s fashionable, but because it makes economic and civic sense.


Over the past 135 years, great inventions have come along on average every 7.25 years, however there has not been a world-changing leap in energy in the past 70 years.


Why is it that no revolutionary change has come to automobiles operation and efficiency in over 100 years? Does America need a “big think” on energy?


Moreover, is clean and affordable energy purely a market driven challenge, or will private/public partnerships work to spur invention? How could the government exercise better leadership on energy issues?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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