A major shift is happening, in the energy sources and distribution that our civilization uses for power.
This is not just a shift in our primary energy source, as from wood, to coal, to petro.
This is a shift in how we distribute, store, and manage this energy.
The upcoming primary shift is this:
We are becoming increasingly energy source independent.When our primary energy source has been burning wood, coal or oil, then a key property of that energy source has been its portability, its ability to deliver dense energy where it was needed.
For example, cars and trucks are gas or diesel powered in part because gas and diesel have been two of the most energy dense forms of fuel widely and economically available to us over this last century.
The electric grid of the last century was the first phase of a major transition, from choosing energy sources for their portable energy density, to delivering abundant supplies of energy, such as hydro-electric and nuclear power, to the point of use (so long as that point was a static point on the ground.)
But we have been still relying critically on gasoline and diesel (petro fuels) for mobile applications in cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships, because (except for the expensive and controlled technology in nuclear fusion) these petro fuels were the densest portable source of energy widely available.
And we have been still relying on a few, relatively primitive, sources for the bulk of the electricity going over our power grid: hydro, nuclear, coal, and petro, and our civilization’s power grid consists primarily of a few such large, expensive, sources, feeding power through a fairly dumb grid to whoever wants it, and is willing to pay the metered usage, on the other end.
So, for the last century, it’s been:
- A few big electrical generating plants (hydro, coal, nuclear, petro, …)
- An extensive dumb grid delivering electrical power
- Lots of small and medium, but immobile, consumers of electricity
- Petro fuels for larger mobile uses and batteries for smaller uses.
“Green”, “alternative” energy sources, such as wind and solar, have not fit in this model all that well. They’ve been tolerable in small amounts, but since all the immobile consumers of electricity are attached directly to the grid and require power on demand, and since these alternative energy sources can only generate electricity when the opportunity of favorable winds or sunshine presents itself, they can’t become a major supplier of energy … on the current grid, that must consume energy as it is produced (lacks storage.)
But now we are on the cusp of some more major advances in technology, that will once again dramatically change energy sources and distribution that our civilization uses for power.
- What if Tesla could double or quadruple battery production?
- What if Tesla could double or quadruple the life of those batteries?
- What if those Tesla batteries provided major grid storage?
- What if Tesla software controlled that grid and that storage?
- What if batteries replaced petro as the main transportation fuel store?
- What if the grid became “smart”, moving and storing electricity wherever?
Elon Musk of Tesla has been teasing “Battery Day” for a few months now. Sometime, perhaps in June of 2020, he’s expected to announce major progress toward the above goals.
Tesla sold 367,500 cars in 2019, whereas Toyota and Volkswagen sold over 10 million cars each, world-wide.
- If Tesla can double the miles that one charge can go, from say 250 miles to 500 miles (thus beating most petro cars), and
- if Tesla can extend the life cycle of batteries from say hundreds to thousands of cycles, providing a “million mile battery”, and
- if Tesla can increase production of its batteries from gigawatts to terawatts at its newly announced TeraFactory in Austin, Texas, and
- if Tesla can do this with a power train (basically just batteries and electric motors) that is much simpler, with far fewer moving parts, than the modern internal combustion engines and transmissions in a petro powered car …
… then Tesla could become the leading automotive producer in the world, with over tens of millions of cars sold each year.
Then if all those cars were also Tesla controlled electrical storage units on the power grid, for hardly any more material cost at all, then:
- Tesla could provide the largest electrical storage capacity in the world.
- Electricity would replace petro in transportation, perhaps even in planes.
- Natural gas powered peaker plants would become obsolete.
- Tesla would achieve its goal of a sustainable energy future.
… and, finally, the aging infrastructure of our hydro, nuclear, coal and petro electric power generation could be seamlessly replaced over time with whatever plasma-fusion-electromagnetic generators might be inspired by the coming “new physics”, for which I have yet to provide articles under this forum’s Science category.
By the way, the “petro-Dollar”, a currency kept in demand during most of the last century by its demand to pay for petroleum, would have its coffin, already being nailed shut (as I explained in this article), forever buried six feet under in the dusty chapters of economics history books, as petroleum regressed to being just a useful substrate for various chemicals, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.
This is all of a piece … the future is unfolding before us, even as the past is dying behind us.