Gross world product increased an estimated 530% in the 19th century and grew an average of 5.3% annually between 1800-1900. World wealth then grew an exponentially greater 3,600% in the 20th century (even when taking into account damage from conflicts) at an average of 36% per year. This astounding increase was made possible due to automation, effective fossil fuel exploitation, periodic rapid war recovery reconstructions, and consumer culture for the masses.
Then there has been a noticeable paradigm shifting slowdown in world’s wealth generation towards the end of the 20th century, primarily in the western world. Slowdown in recent decades has been substantial enough that even with Eurasia coming online in the 1990s, the average annual gross world product growth has been only 2.2% on average annually between 2000 and 2012.
Obviously much of the world product is unaccounted for due to the size of the black market and unreported/non-quantifiable activity. But to make 21st century exponentially more productive than the previous one (the way 20th was to 19th) and to successfully and rapidly pull 9 billion projected humans towards dramatically better standards of living, a couple things need to be considered. These are unified energy and communication grids that function as public utilities. These would provide the foundational base on which globalization can continue evolving more evenly, smoothly, and equitably.
Even with solid transnational transport systems, markets will remain fragmented if synchronous grids of different regions remain disconnected from each other. Recent efforts by US authorities and private interests (General Electric, T. Boone Pickens, etc) are promising since they are pushing for electrical unification in North America that would copy and build on European experience. On the one hand, these efforts are due to economic profit based needs requiring US to use cutting edge tech to incorporate scattered steadily growing renewables (just look at the recent exponential efficiency growth in solar that is finally becoming competitive) as well to incorporate the explosion in non-renewable sources from fracking. On the other hand, efforts towards an American supergrid are also driven by existential necessity: alarming regional climate related calamities and increasingly third world nature of the continent’s electrical infrastructure.
Unitary planetary energy SuperSmart Grid and its characteristics
Efforts to unify largest electrical grids in the world are ongoing and largely unreported due to their rather mundane technical nature. Recently, power entities responsible for control of 70% of world’s grid capacity met to discuss standardization, interconnections, and unification. Well respected experts have described an eventual ultimate goal of the world becoming just a giant room with wiring. One where any family, business, or country can add an electric socket and into which new diverse energy sources can be added on a plug and play basis. The entirety of energy on the global grid at any given time would be measured continuously as well as all major expenditures and additions. The recent breakthroughs in high voltage DC circuit breakers and US funded GE smart grid research allows energy to be properly circulated, redirected where needed, prevent cascading shut down failures, deal with massive energy influxes and influxes from semi constant supplies (wind/solar), and to store excess energy in energy reservoirs to be fed back into the system as needed. Emergence of a global common electrical grid before our very eyes also requires an emergence of almost a “secondary Internet” to regulate the energy flow. As we keep hearing more and more about the emerging “Internet of Things”, this secondary energy regulating Internet will naturally become a major factor for discussion, promotion, and implementation.
To become a water type utility in popular global consciousness, electrical grid needs to become a sort of rough giant continuous “energy trough” constantly collectively added to and taken from.
To effectively move away from a future annual monetary income stipend (that would be introduced to mitigate disruptive social effects of automation) and onto an annual electrical energy consumption stipend, the grid needs a few things:
1) A minimum of doubling of world’s energy production and a minimum of doubling of efficiency of current energy systems (in energy transport and use). This would quadruple energy as human population grows from 7 billion to eventual stabilization point of around 9 billion and maintain annual energy growth well above annual birth rate.
2) Transparent, real time, easily publicly accessible energy data within the system for every locality. So if a person wants to check real time consumption of electrical energy by Chicago or Kyoto or a small town in Argentina he or she would be able to do so. Personalizing electrical streams within a global “trough” would create same psychological connection to energy that people are currently developing towards Internet broadband (dealing with broadband via a similar “global broadband trough”/global Wi-Fi is also a good complementary idea).
Energy, transport, and communication are essential factors for creation of a smoothly functioning world technological and social organism. These issues stand above all other issues in this regard. Even proper evolution of political institutions is not possible without addressing these factors. Breakthroughs in hardcore circuit breakers for long distance HVDC underwater cables will allow connections thousands of miles in length between low power and high power grids and thus propel SuperGrid emergence (see current HVDC cables turning Europe into an energy nexus on the right).
[insert alarmist melodrama here]: “These are all ridiculous and obvious platitudes! There are insurmountable political obstacles to all of this! First there’s the banking cartels that have been carefully stifling physical industry to not overproduce so as to keep profit rates up for over 100 years in the Western world. Now that systemic sabotage system has been globalized. Plus even if the banking leash was removed from generating industry for socially useful ends, the sheer influx of energy use talked about will ruin us through ruining our environment!”
Panic and resignation make some amount of sense given the full spectrum kaleidoscope of obstacles but we need to approach this using numbers.
It was estimated in the 1930s, that if all the buildings in America were demolished and rebuilt with cutting edge energy efficient buildings in their place, the energy savings would break even in 20 years with the entire energy amount taken for this gargantuan effort.
Nothing that drastic needs to happen now that solar is becoming competitive with fossil fuels (see the massive deflation in solar panel products) and now that China is leading the global nuclear energy renaissance. Roughly half of 60 third generation nuclear power plants being constructed around the world right now are located in China and the country is well on track to making a breakthrough in economies of scale production when it comes to fission reactors. It is also worth mentioning that every successive generation of a particular industry (from making cars to making computers) becomes more energy efficient in terms of electrical input to product output. This means that the reindustrialization in the Western Hemisphere that The Pragmatist keeps mentioning will not be as exponentially more energy intensive as currently thought. The impact on the environment will be smaller than previous waves of industrialization and it is important to keep in mind that true clean up of polluted regions of the planet will only be possible by the large scale machinery of reindustrialization.
The popularity of going off grid in North America has created progress in plug and play modular connectors for solar panels that are easy to operate for the average person. This nicely combines with recent rapid emergence of overcapacity in Chinese solar panel production and German efforts to remain competitive with China through solar subsidies.
It is hard to say whether Hydraulic Fracturing, Nuclear, or Solar will become the primary driver behind supersmart grid emergence. What is clear is that the process towards it is moving full steam ahead, is inevitable, and that eventually we will see energy “too cheap to meter” as a whole planet gets access to a trough to take from and fill with easy tracking of the entire process.