Energy and Transportation, Tech and Business

Exponential Technology Revolution #2 – The New Energy Matrix

The New Energy Matrix is harnessing renewable energy, storage, and the electric autonomous vehicle to change the way the world is powered. It represents the most conventional of the jumps we are facing, as we have had several of this in human history. At the same time, it is one of the most transformational, as changing our energy matrix has reliably changed how we live every time.

The Paleolithic energy matrix was the human body for both physical work and transportation. In the Neolithic, it evolved with fire and beasts of burdens. The Roman, Persian and Chinese empires were able to harness the power of water and wind to a certain extent, and complement beasts of burdens with roads, limited shipping and systematic use of the wheel. The Age of Discovery brought the full harnessing of water and wind for both energy and especially naval transportation. The industrial revolution was built on coal and the steam engine as engines of transport and physical labor. The modern era brought fossil fuels, as the basis for electricity production, factory engines, and land, sea, and air travel.

The new energy matrix builds on digital and software processes, like all the other paradigm shifts. For example, the connected and autonomous vehicle is an outgrowth of software processes and integrated reality, enabling a new way to conceive transport. However, the new energy matrix is based on many basic technologies that go beyond digital. First, the increasing efficiency and lower cost of renewable energy are opening up the possibility of revolution. Cost of solar and wind has fallen reliably and is now below conventional sources in many use cases. Second, storage technologies are allowing effective storage of extremely large quantities of energy, overcoming the problem of the lack of security of supply in renewable. Third, magnetic levitation and vacuum technologies are being leveraged for uses like the Hyperloop. Finally, the electric vehicle is being developed to be a more cost-efficient and effective alternative to the conventional combustion engine vehicle.

The deployment of the new energy-transportation matrix will be probably the slowest of the changes to play out. Energy and transportation assets are long-lived and one of the most resource-intensive assets in society. So the full transformation of the asset base will take substantial time, however, we can expect new investment to be almost solely focused on the new categories in the shorter term.

The impact we can expect is a fundamental rethink of our relationship to energy and distance. This is consistent with previous changes in the energy matrix which have made energy radically cheaper and more abundant and have reduced the scale of the world by an order of magnitude at least in terms of cost and time.

A world in which energy is an order of magnitude cheaper and cleaner will mean the end of our global warming pains and a complete redesign of our energy system. We can imagine a renewable powered smart grid with storage which makes our current energy consumption almost free and impact free. This will also turn upside down the energy and fossil fuel industries and transform the geopolitical balance of power.

Of course, a world in which energy is an order of magnitude cheaper will bring out new use cases for energy that we are not considering today. Things that are unaffordable today will become possible and will lead to new use cases. Lighting a city at night used to be an unaffordable dream in the days of whale oil and tallow candles. We will probably solve freshwater scarcity, as desalinization is feasible but energy intensive. We can only wonder what else we will do, but we will probably stretch the new energy matrix to its limits as we have always done.

In transportation, the combination of autonomous, electric, maglev, and digitized vehicles will reimagine how we define and use transportation. Different studies point to costs per km of at least 10x times lower and a carrying capacity of roads of at least 8x the current one. Speeds could also be incremented in short trips thanks to the unerring accuracy of software processes in vehicle driving. How will we think about distance is a 100km trip is equivalent in cost and inconvenience to a few km today? This will change the concept of location and the value of real estate.

Finally, autonomous mobility removes the concept of the driver, allowing access to groups which have been limited. The impact on children, the disabled and the elderly can be liberating and free up countless hours and empower countless use cases. The amount of human time liberated is also difficult to conceive.

Overall, the combination of all these impacts will have incalculable consequences on a number of industries. The oil & gas, power, automotive and transportation industries will be directly affected and potentially reshaped. Other industries like real estate and many others will face complete changes to its cost base and value proposition and might be totally transformed. It is easy to see the losers among the workers. The workforce engaged on the fossil fuels-combustion engine energy-transport grid will face tremendous change and potential unemployment. Drivers especially, a surprisingly large segment of the working population might see their jobs disappear completely in a relatively short time frame.

The apparent lack of limits of the new energy supply is not new, as each energy revolution opened up vast resources based on the previous era standard. What is different this time is the impact of digital and AI, allowing for the first time for a fully globalized and autonomous energy and transportation system.

We are seeing the new energy-transportation matrix creep on us slowly but surely on a number of fronts:

Facts

  • Solar and renewable power. Clean and endless energy
  • Storage and batteries. Making energy independent of time.
  • Electric cars and motorbikes. Nikola Tesla’s revenge.
  • Shared transportation. From 5 to 95% usage.
  • Water. Taking control of water.

Speculations

  • Smart grids and mini grids. From transporting to integrating.
  • Autonomous vehicles. AI drivers.
  • Drone logistics. Your faithful drone servants.
  • Hyperloop. Planes are slow
  • Autonomous flying vehicles. Why drive if you can fly.

Wild speculation: The autonomous homestead

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