It was 2014 when I was first exposed to the concept of an Energy Internet. It was Economist Jeremy Rifkin in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society that introduced it as part of a broader vision for a new general purpose technology platform (GPTP). I have since written extensively about the Shifting Energy Paradigm and the implication for society. When evaluating the three foundational components of a GPTP (Energy, Communications, and Transport), changes to the energy component have historically driven the biggest societal transformations.
I have recently explored the work of RethinkX, an independent think tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society. They just released another fascinating report, this one focused on Rethinking Energy. Much like their previous reports on Farming and Humanity, this report envisions the disruption of the energy sector during the 2020s, driven by the convergence of three clean energy technologies: solar photovoltaics, onshore wind power, and lithium-ion batteries (SWB). They conclude:
It is both physically possible and economically affordable to meet 100% of electricity demand with the combination of solar, wind, and batteries (SWB) by 2030 across the entire continental United States as well as the overwhelming majority of other populated regions of the world.
As is usually the case with disruptive shifts, it all comes down to economics. In their analysis, authors Tony Seba and Adam Dorr find that 100% SWB will provide the cheapest possible electricity system by 2030 – far less expensive than new conventional power plants, and in many cases less expensive than continuing to operate existing coal, gas, or nuclear power plants. Much like the phenomenon described by Rifkin, the authors speak to energy approaching near zero marginal cost.
“Just as the Internet disrupted many incumbent industries but facilitated the emergence of many more – and created trillions of dollars of new value – by reducing the marginal cost of information to near zero, the SWB disruption will have a similar impact by reducing the marginal cost of energy to near-zero for a substantial portion of the year“
Society will experience considerable gains when the energy paradigm shifts. New possibilities emerge for business and society, launching the next period of significant human development. The authors see the creation of trillions of dollars of economic value and millions of jobs across the wider economy in the United States alone. They estimate that the construction of such a system in the continental United States would cost less than $2 trillion over the course of the 2020s – just 1% of GDP. In terms of climate change, they believe this shift will virtually eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from the existing electric power sector, and will also reduce emissions by displacing fossil fuel energy use in other sectors – residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and agriculture.
The team at RethinkX is showing us that these massive societal shifts are likely to happen faster than people think. This notion of Acceleration is not new, but skeptics remain. They have provided evidence of this acceleration in Transportation, Energy, Farming and other foundational pieces of Humanity. (includes materials and information). The result is likely the most disruptive decade in history.