What is the future of energy? In the embedded video, Michel Gelobter discusses the future of energy with Salim Ismail.
Ismail is the Executive Director of Singularity University, and Gelobter is a leading climate strategist and Singularity U’s Chair for Energy and Ecological Systems. Singularity University is a new organization with the bold aim of “Preparing humanity for accelerating technological change”.
Following are some of the points Gelobter sees as important to the future of energy. He sees a very bright future ahead, and it’s not far away.
People are starting to “get it”. People are starting to make transitions, at an industrial level and at a social level, about energy. Given the pressure of global warming and the desire for energy independence, people are ready to make deep investments in different energy systems.
The corporate world is starting to really understand and a sea-change in attitude is taking place. The right popular social environment is starting to emerge. If the consumer, industrial and innovation mindsets can be aligned, we can go a very long way.
We have the technology and the know-how to decarbonize economies over a relatively short time, and the cost is not prohibitive. The question is: how quickly and efficiently will we do it?
Solar has been improving incrementally and increasingly rapidly. We are close to some breakthroughs. There is a lot of room to make solar technology less expensive and more efficient.
Nanotechnology could be central to improvements. We are already in a situation where we can print solar panels like paper. The technology is here. It’s just a question of whether the will is there, and whether we can shift and deploy the technology fast enough.
Having the ability and will to harvest as much solar energy as possible is going to be increasingly important.
Updating electricity grids
We are living with archaic electricity grid systems. There is the possibility for new hi-tech smart grids that allow long distance transmission of power, and then there’s the possibility of developing these in stages, from the existing grid.
The second option can be developed more quickly, efficiently, and with less investment capital. The new smart grid can be implemented at a localized level and move towards the center as it’s developed.
We have a bright energy future ahead of us, much better than the one we live in today. There is a huge cost we all pay for the fossil fuel economy – from money, to international security threats, to pollution. We have to remember the positive image of the world we are heading into with these new, cleaner technologies, so we can work towards creating that world.
Lack of imagination is the biggest threat to what is possible. We are looking at the biggest switch in technology in human history. Energy is a huge part of our economy, and there are huge opportunities, but people are going to have to think big in order to displace the fossil fuel industry. This must be done.
Image: workers installing thin-film solar panels on a Walmart store. CC licensed by Walmart Stores