By: Connor Sanborn, Co-Founder of SunFlower LLC
If you haven’t yet: check out the introductory post for this series — it lays the groundwork for Parts 1-4 exploring the limitless potential of the world of tomorrow.
A Tangle of Wires!
Flashback to 1909 in the city… wait, also 2019! I bet if you looked outside, you’d have found a jumble of black wires connected to a tall wooden pole, possibly with some funky looking cylindrical silvery-grey spacebox on it, attached for good measure. You probably knew that all of these things carried electricity around, but almost certainly not from where. If your wires ran underground, you were lucky enough to witness a glimpse of the future: 2076 — a time when our energy flows all around us and is generated by us, unimpeded by miles and miles of towering wire, electrical resistance and property lines.
Ever get anxiety over losing your phone’s charging cord? Fear not! Everything charges wirelessly in 2076. Power beaming over distance was finally cracked, thanks in large to the military. The technology was dispersed to the civilian power grid and is helping us in unimaginable ways. Heatwaves ubiquitously known to stress electrical grids - with everyone’s AC cranked to the max - are no longer an issue. The terms ‘brownout’ and ‘rolling blackouts’ lost their meaning due to the multitude of distributed energy resources around the cities, supporting a network of reserves lasting their occupants months; this is true energy resilience, true energy independence.
Since the first Industrial Revolution, power had to be generated — and energy stored — with lots of prior thought. Scientists understood all too well that additional resources wouldn’t just come down from the heavens upon request, after all. Jump to 2076: thanks to the sweet (cold) embrace of outer space — where it’s truly always sunny — solar farms orbiting the planet transmit the most efficiently harvested PV energy around back down to Earth, just when our cities need it most. This minimizes the power losses and disruptions that cost lives during the dreaded heatwaves. After the infamous COVID-19 outbreak in the 20s, humans gradually became aware of just how fragile the notion of existence really is, prompting some outside-the-box thinking and scientific imagination to ensure a stable immediate future for Earth’s biosphere while allowing us to continue adapt as a species. Some of this meant preparing for interplanetary & interstellar travel; the rest, however, called for a more inwardly-focused examination of our problems and destructive interference with nature, here, on Earth.
For starters, all electricity transmission and distribution wires are buried underground: safe from man, machine and mother nature. These days, the wires are made from twisted 2D-graphene sheets and produced with the raw material of atmospheric carbon, or CO2 (as it turns out, there was a lot of extra left over up there from previous generations). The abundance of graphene enables power traveling long distances to be revamped at superconducting substations, minimizing electrical losses along the way and saving on the price of electricity for everyone. Electrical energy is almost ‘too cheap to meter’ now, just under one penny per kilowatt-hour ($0.01/kWh) thanks to a vast supply of renewable and sustainable energy in localities around the world.
Grid 2 — The Power Mix
The cycle of burning deep Earthly combustibles perpetuated by humans for 300 years came to an end around 2060, heralding a new age of sustainable energy resilience for our species. What now then: simply solar, wind, hydro everything up — call it a day? Not exactly! Welcome to Grid 2, where even your footsteps on the streets contribute to the greater energy needs of modern society.
2076 hosts a world with a trillion-node energy system known as ‘Grid 2’. The enormity of nodes — energy harvest and storage waypoints — comprise the framework of a globally developed energy generation and trading platform based on hundreds of different renewable energy forms existing across society. Scattered about the continents amongst people’s everyday items and places of habitance, these renewable systems capture available energy from the surrounding environment and distribute it based on a ‘lowest carbon outcome’ algorithm that is specific to the area.
Nowadays, someone’s excess renewable energy is almost always nearby and readily available for purchase via a public ledger, and there’s a huge benefit to this. The IoT has enabled all of our devices to measure and document their consumption and sale of not only data, but electricity too — and proof of it all exists on the blockchain. Transaction transparency and efficiency is the name of the game, and my neighbor actually gets paid extra when I utilize their excess solar energy at a reduced rate! Thanks to this win-win, you can safely say sayonara to the energy transmission and distribution fees of the past.
Sure, we could power the world with just sun, wind and water — but why stop there, and where’s the fun in that? In addition to the old, conventional renewable resources, scientists have actualized some (once very outlandish) ideas as legitimate energy supplies that support our daily lives. Small fusion reactors are making their way onto the scene and have a long way to go (beyond their use at military bases and in travel to distant outer space outposts) — though modular nuclear reactors are much more popular, now that we have bred specialized bacteria and fungi to dispose of the radioactive wastes. In the cities, the roads and sidewalks capture vibrational energy, a concept slowly mastered over the last 50 years. Skyscrapers are covered in semi-transparent solar glass. Solar paint — a long-sought pipe-dream — now coats the majority of buildings and homes around the globe, not to mention all types of EVs!
Let’s Get Weird...
I get it: you’re upset that flying cars haven’t panned out as well as they did in The Fifth Element — so am I (that movie rocked, special shout-out to the blue lady). At least we have flying solar and wind farms, unhindered by the anarchy of local permitting and whomever’s backyard may be in eye-shot. These high fliers simply avoid the pristine views so frequently fought over in the past. And nowadays, it’s not always the largest scale that matters. Welcome to the future — where everyone is an energy source… in fact, so is their trash!
In 2076 it’s pretty cool to be trashy — at least when it comes to putting your home compostables and other organics in the pop-up anaerobic digester sitting in your kitchen. Especially in the cities, there were always two constants you could count on: way too much trash and rolling blackouts. Organic waste-fueled metabolic heat-engines and methane-backed community microgrids have helped fill in a wide gap of energy resiliency once missing in neighborhoods across cities and suburbia around the world.
From an environmental perspective: effective carbon capture at the point-source of methane combustion emissions proved to be a necessary piece of the puzzle to build a diverse, robust and hardy electrical system (both financially and structurally). Another piece was found within innovative geothermal energy systems, not only helping to regulate building climates, but also sequestering excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere permanently into calcareous rocks (from which beaches now get their sand to prevent further erosion due to sea level rise). Stored hydrogen gas and the newest ‘hydrogen batteries’, incorporating solid electrolytes, went from rising-star status in the 2030s and 40s to become a centerpiece of Grid 2. The trick was finding energy solutions that work for the environment and with it, not against it.
Personal favorites for innovations that are now commonplace in the future include the adoption of concentrated solar technologies on city rooftops for heating and electricity needs, the ‘noise trees’ you’ll see around local parks capturing the available energy, purifying the air and canceling outside noise, and those coral-energy farms helping to rebuild ecological diversity in the ocean and sequester excess CO2 from the sky. Doing this is necessary to restore both the atmosphere and oceanic ecosystem health to, eventually, their stable states seen over 100 years ago.
Take most any resource, whatever it is, people usually want it NOW, ON DEMAND — dispensable like water from a faucet, beer from a tap. In 2076, at least for our personal energy needs, it finally is at that point. Our gadgets, homes, cars, hot air balloons (hey, a guy can dream) all power themselves, share energy and maximize their ability to benefit you through the trade of this commodity that has become a necessity alongside food, water and shelter. These new technologies don’t solve all of life’s problems, but they chip away at some of the added stressors in life that used to weigh us down and shift our focus away from what really matters: friends, family and the Earth.
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