Los límites de la innovación energética

Winnipeg – El Presidente Barack Obama ha prometido una revolución energética en la economía más grande del mundo, con fuentes renovables de energía y tecnologías "verdes" que acaben con la dependencia de Estados Unidos -y, a fin de cuentas, del mundo- de los combustibles convencionales. Los beneficios ambientales, estratégicos y económicos –incluidos un menor uso de combustibles fósiles que emiten carbono, menos dependencia de exportadores de petróleo y gas políticamente volátiles, y la creación de millones de empleos bien pagados- son incuestionables. Sin embargo, ¿cuánto realismo hay en esta visión?

Sólo un tipo de energía primaria (energía contenida en recursos naturales) no era conocido por las primeras grandes civilizaciones de Oriente Próximo y Asia Oriental, y todas sus sucesoras preindustriales: los isótopos de los elementos pesados cuya fisión nuclear se utiliza desde fines de los años 50 para generar calor que, a su vez, produce vapor para los turbogeneradores de electricidad modernos. Todas las demás fuentes de energía se han conocido por miles de años, y la mayoría fueron aprovechadas por las sociedades premodernas.

La diferencia fundamental entre los usos modernos y tradicionales de la energía consiste no el acceso a recursos energéticos nuevos o mejores, sino en la invención e implementación masiva de “generadores de fuerza motriz”, máquinas eficientes, asequibles, fiables y convenientes que convierten energías primarias en potencia mecánica, electricidad o calor. La historia bien se puede subdividir en eras caracterizadas por los generadores de energía motriz predominantes.

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