This is part one of a four part series:
- Part 1: The Little Things
- Part 2: Wind and waste heat
- Part 3: Petroleum, plastic, and data centers
- Part 4: How it will shake out and conclusion
PDF of the whole thing (2,158 words).
There are other ideas floating around, that might be of interest to private individuals, too. Wind turbines floating on neodymium magnets resulting in ultra-low coefficients of friction that generate electricity spring to mind. Even the smallest gust of wind could offset electricity costs for your home. Applied on a larger scale, these turbines could be installed next to stretches of highway where the wind created by vehicles speeding by generates power for the grid. The ideas get progressively more sci-fi and less based in reality, but all have research and/or working prototypes to support them.
Ultimately, I expect a handful of green power generation strategies to become prominent, based largely on a region’s geographical needs. A landlocked country has little use for generators that harness tidal forces, and a country without large amounts of sunlight will have little use for a solar grid and might be better off with a network of small, personal, near-frictionless turbines to produce a great deal of power. This will have the secondary effect of changing power companies’ dynamics. Private individuals and businesses may end up selling a significant fraction of the electricity that they generate back to the power company, as already happens on a tiny scale.
Rather than being a sunk, overhead cost, electricity could provide a smaller, secondary source of income in some cases. This is good for the overall health and robustness of the power grid itself. Rather than a centralized source vulnerable to operator error, equipment failure, or even an unlikely terrorist attack providing us with all of our power, a grid of consumers becomes a grid of hybrid supplier-producers. This has an effect on the dynamic of the producer-consumer relationship, too. The consumer has more power because they’re doing more than just consuming. They become more of a partner in the relationship.
So while no single master stroke of technology is going to save the world from global climate change, or rescue our economy from its dependence on foreign oil, there are a number of initiatives that, in aggregate, are having a real, profound effect on our economy. That effect will only become more pronounced as time goes on, and these technologies that are mostly in the lab make their way slowly into the real world. It’s important to note that while being green is trendy and gets a lot of press and has considerable mindshare, particularly among the youth, it’s not this trendiness or mindshare that’s going to create lasting change. It has certainly sparked social change, which is good, but as always, it is the bottom line that will be the driver for bigger and better things. It will be economic forces that determine whether we continue our destructive tendencies or move towards a more renewable future. My money is on green, because that’s the direction the invisible hand is pushing us in. Green is, quite simply, how we do more with less, and create new markets while we make our way in that direction.