Post-Petroleum Profit: The Entrepreneurial Race Is On

Last Updated Jan 5, 2011 2:08 PM EST

The first all-electric cars from a major manufacturer hit U.S. streets this month, just as a prominent energy journalist predicted that U.S. gasoline sales peaked in 2006 and are on a long-term decline. Those two events don't signal the end of the corner gas station, or of U.S. dependence on gasoline-powered engines. But they do mark the beginning of a new era of entrepreneurial opportunity.

Imagining a world without gas-guzzling automobiles is hard for most of us. But not all of us. Chances are the average Baby Boomer's grandparents were born during an era when the now-ubiquitous gasoline infrastructure of paved roads and service stations was only barely there, or entirely absent. The first gasoline filling station opened in St. Louis just a little over a century ago.

The expansion of internal combustion engines into every nook and cranny of American life propelled the growth of countless entrepreneurial fortunes, from the Rockefellers to Jiffy Lube founder James Hindman. And right behind the looming electrification of American transportation will be a new wave of entrepreneurs to capitalize on the innumerable opportunities spinning off from this historic shift. To name a few:

  • Charging stations for homes and businesses, along with ancillary items such as SemaConnect's meter that measures the amount of electricity a car takes to power up. The startup's product will permit apartment and office building owners to offer electric-driving tenants parking lot recharging stations without penalizing drivers still stuck in the gasoline era.
  • Electricity-powered automotive components such as water pumps, air conditioners and other systems, including services and systems for retrofitting entire vehicles to run off electricity. Amp Electric Vehicles is one company taking the full-retrofit route, while ALTe specializes in electric vehicle power trains.
  • Products and services for electric utilities, which face possible brownouts because recharging an electric car can draw as much power as a small house. PEP Stations, of Livonia, Michigan, is placing its bet on a line of recharging systems.
To go with these are endless additional possibilities, ranging from electric-car dealers to trade schools for repair technicians. And, just as few people in 1905 could have foreseen the carpeting of America with self-service pumps, few of us today can imagine the many new businesses that will be created as the gasoline engine ends its reign as the sole motive force of the nation.

Somebody, somewhere is imagining it. The rest of us, for the most part, will find out about the opportunities after they've arrived. But not all of us. Who will be the Rockefellers and Hindmans of the electric age? Why not you?

Mark Henricks has reported on business, technology and other topics for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications long enough to lay somewhat legitimate claim to being The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Cherrie 美桜, CC2.0

  • Mark Henricks

    Mark Henricks' reporting on business and other topics has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications. He lives in Austin, Texas, where myth looms as large as it does anywhere.