How can we maintain our future energy supplies?
The authors of ‘The Future – Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society, and Business’ outline four different scenarios to save the planet’s limited resources including producing your own energy to share with others and heat-generating wearables…
As the summer heat hits, our power grids work at full pelt to keep cooling and ventilation systems battling against the sweltering temperatures. In less developed parts of the planet, heat levels mean people will die. Our survival, as well as our comfort, depend on continuing to generate sufficient power. But energy resources are distributed unequally.
Some believe the energy situation will be addressed slowly over fifty years. Alternatively, we can be more radical. In our book, The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business we explore surprising, and unexpected scenarios of how we might change the path to the future.
To explore future energy, we use these perspectives and four scenarios which draw on a workshop our team designed and facilitated at the Finland Futures Research Conference in Tampere, Finland in June 2018.
A discussion was held about understanding the challenges of the ongoing energy transition. The formation of legionella in cooling towers, for instance. German law specifies how to deal with legionella contamination in cooling water in its 42nd edition of the Federal Emissions Ordinance.
In many commercial and industrial buildings, cooling systems have been opened which create an environment conducive to algae growth and the development of legionella. The lack of proper water treatment not only harms our ecosystem but also increases the cost of cooling tower maintenance.
A sunny solution
Imagine we’re living between 2020 and 2050. This future rests on the progression of organic solar cells and advances in solar panel performance; and a focus on peer to peer energy distribution systems. Cutting out the grid leads to a healthier, renewable, and optimized quality of life. It gives regular people something of value that they can sell to meet their basic needs.
In 2020 politicians are trying to maintain the status quo and resisting the changes being enabled by solar energy. By 2030, they realize there are more energy producers than consumers. Also there is enough clean energy to last a lifetime. Sustainability becomes the norm across the planet.
By 2040, each person might be producing their own energy and sharing it with others. By 2050 there would be drastic lifestyle changes. For example: An Indonesian family with one child. The parents work from home as part of a global network doing professional jobs in a small business. Because there is abundant energy they don’t have to struggle for survival and can do what they love.
One challenge is that almost all-natural surfaces are covered in solar panels. This seems at odds with the fact that all local natural and human resources gain more and more value. Natural beauty becomes a rare sight in some places that were once revered for it.
Nomads and networks
This scenario describes the emergence of a nomad network after an ecological crisis on earth. It takes place before 2050.
A major climate change induced ecological and civilization crisis. Rising sea levels destroyed entire cities. The populations that survived live in extreme weather conditions. Society has become nomadic and post-urban.
There is radically less energy consumed per person in this future. Society becomes a series of tribes connected by mobile devices. People have learned the lessons of the disaster, so they are collaborating through their devices and becoming a global mobile community. Energy regulation is based in the values of the nomadic tribes.
People have robotic horses to move from one place to another, living in tents with solar panels. Old unused buildings and skyscrapers become the platforms for solar panels and storage units.
Unable to practice traditional agriculture, tribes have turned to marine agriculture, producing algae, grown using robots. These farms are not sufficient to support a lifetime’s food supply, so the nomads move and wait for new algae to grow in order to come back to harvest their crops.
This scenario explores a world in 2040 where social values have evolved significantly. People of this future prioritize open access, trust, and love. The triggering event is a truly game-changing new energy technology. A personal wearable device is invented to provide personal freedom powered by unlimited energy – capturing and transforming energy produced by the body such as motion and heat.
The reader is asked to imagine a decentralized future where the body can actually produce all the energy needed to run society. There would likely be so much energy available that we’d have an excess. We could perhaps transform it into technologies that provide shelter, heat, and transport.
It is also possible that future abundant energy would be applied to negative purposes. Weapons, pollution, illness, and social control could be some of the darker ramifications of a future where the human body is an energy source.
For example, consider Frida who lives in a city in China that stores the energy of citizens. Not every city has this technology yet, so the city is prosperous. The economy is based on producing and selling energy.
Initially the technology was used to eliminate air pollution. This was very popular. The next stage was to develop the technology enabling the city to store personal energy. In this future, Frida has the freedom to choose what to do with her time as she is producing wealth with her own personal energy.
Design of the megacity
This scenario explores a vision of a smart Scandinavian megacity design colonizing the earth between 2020 and 2050. Communities have efficient physical infrastructure for housing.
However, there are many overlapping activities taking place in the virtual world, where the real “community” exists. Mobility has slowed since self-sufficiency of most buildings reduces the need for transport. Education and work are virtual, urban gardens produce ample food, and waste forms a key energy source. The megacity design encapsulates the self-sufficiency ethos.
This future started with migration problems but thrived thanks to technological innovations. Renewable energy infrastructure, the internet of things (IOT), and artificial intelligence (AI) facilitated the optimization of truly intelligent cities and a network of smart, self-sustaining communities.
For example, the Perez family joined an energy cooperative residential community in Mexico. Adopting a collective mindset, their energy consumption became more efficient. Everything they need is within their building: food from vertical gardens, good neighbours, community entertainment, and strong social safety net.
These scenarios push the boundaries and leave us with questions including:
- What challenges would we face in adapting to each scenario?
- What the critical steps are needed to achieve our preferred scenario?
Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington and Helena Calle are futurists from Fast Future, a professional foresight firm. The latest books from Fast Future are: ‘Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity’, and ‘The Future – Reinvented: Reimagining Life, Society, and Business’. See: www.fastfuture.com