Up and up they go. The price of petrol is showing all the signs of a developing crisis for UK business and consumers.

BP’s chief executive Lord Browne said this week that the cost of filling up ‘may well’ go above £1 a litre. That ‘may well’ probably means it will, and there is no reason to believe it will not go significantly above that level.

The rising price of fuel is a classic example of the swirling forces of geopolitics impacting on all of us in our daily lives.

We are told that not even the oil industry, not even the people most intimately connected with the production of petroleum, have a real explanation for the current rises in cost.

It is not a simple case of the forces of supply and demand. Reserves are in place, and many of the big oil producing nations have responded to international calls for help by upping their production.

Yet still the cost goes up. Fear, apparently, is the key. Fear that the regions responsible for the bulk of the world’s supplies are too unstable for something bad not to happen. What that bad thing will be, and exactly when it will happen, nobody can be sure. Yet fear of it is enough to cause the cost to rise.

What does all this mean for technology? Well, for certain there is nothing more likely to make people think about their car’s fuel efficiency than to feel pain in their pocket. Consumers will begin demanding and expecting fuel performance not because they have necessarily gone green, but out of that most powerful of motives - naked self-interest.

If the current high prices are sustained, we will turn to technology to allow us to maintain our highly mobile, ‘go anywhere, any time’ lifestyles. Regulation will ensure that such technology is environmentally benevolent.

High petrol prices, in short, could be the unexpected midwife to the birth of an environmental technology boom.

Andrew Lee
The Engineer & The Engineer Online