Pardon my husky voice.It’s dusty here, or I’ve got a Supercold and the future’s all out of throat lozenges; take your pick.
I realize that many of you are thrilled about a possibly-imminent Singularity.I realize this because the young me is among you right now.Anyway, that Singularity sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?Well, it could be, but please heed this warning: If you don’t take certain precautions, your cool Singularity could get damn nasty; and I mean five-stories-tall-robots nasty and scary-robot-motorcycles nasty and ruggedly-handsome-robot-human-hybrids-who-steal-a-movie-right-out-from-under-you nasty.And do I really need to mention the dust problem again, or the Supercolds…
…and the unfortunate lack of throat lozenges around here?
Astrophysicist Alan Boss believes Nasa's Kepler Mission will turn up "hundreds of Earth-like planets", many of which will probably be "inhabited with something."
Considered a leader in the search for planets outside our solar system, Alan Boss says we are at a turning point in our search for extraterrestrial life. He expects we are on the verge of finding many different Earth-like planets across the universe, and he expects it will be common to find life on those planets. He shares his ideas for how the United States can be on the forefront of the next great discovery: life on another planet.
[Note: Sadly, this is a Production chart focused on alternative 'decline rates', and does not include Global Demand forecasts. Only know that there is a gap in any scenario!]
The upside of 'Peak Oil Production' is that it might be a more effective message than Climate Change in spurring dramatic changes to our transportation sector. The worst case 'peak production' scenario is that it might remain marginalized among mainstream audiences and political leaders just long enough to really matter. What if confusion reigns?
People might confuse the idea of 'running out of oil' (not true) with the reality that global production is not keeping up with increasing demand. People might place misguided hope into potential 'solutions' like solar or nuclear that have nothing to do with liquid fuel markets. You cannot put electricity into a gas tank!
Why Data Has Replaced 'Assumptions' & Why 'Peak and Plateau' Matters
President Obama is close to naming the ‘Car Czar’ who will oversee a large portion of the federal auto loans and consult on the looming transformation of the US auto industry. Let's hope this person doesn't try to build a better buggy whip.
Most ideas out on the table are incremental (e.g. ‘better mileage’), or short-sighted (e.g. plug in batteries?) and fail to inspire disruptive changes that reflect a 21st century version of the transportation sector.
Here are Ten Ideas for the US Car Czar:
1) Lower the US Auto Industry I.C.E. 'Manufacturing Footprint' The problem isn't oil, it's the cost complexities of building mechanical engines. Declare the Internal Combustion Engine ‘Dead’ by 2025 (When more than 50% of new vehicles will be powered by electric motors) Have automakers share combustion engine plants and suppliers during the transition.
2) Accelerate the Electricification of the World's Auto Fleet At the same time expand the US manufacturing base around the 'next' generation platform for mobility: Electric Drive systems based on high performance motors, drive by wire systems, software and various energy storage devices.
3) Explain ‘Electrification’ clearly to the public ‘Electric’ refers to the motor, not just the battery. Next generation 'electric' vehicles will integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. Fuel cells produce electricity. A hydrogen powered car is an electric car. Let’s stop the confusion and battle between technologies. Cars are not iPods, and will need various systems to function. This is a multi-decade long transition. Don't pick short-term winners.
4) Go Global - Expand our ties to Asian Manufacturers & Markets Electric cars are not designed to be built as one unit, in one country. They are assembled systems of systems that can be constantly upgraded via a global value chain. The line of 'new' car vs 'old' car blurs when we shift to modular electric platforms. And all the real growth will happen outside of the US! 'Detroit' must participate in this global supply chain and be in a position to sell 21st century vehicle systems to Asian markets. (Hint: The high value auto industrial base will revolve around polymers, software and sensors, not metal frames.)
5) Software Side of Car Experience The single greatest opportunity for the next century might be the ‘software’ side of the automobile experience. Smarter vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ systems, customized driving experiences based on ‘drive by wire’, and mobility services (e.g. OnStar). The US can compete in this new growth market and benefit by getting 'more flow' out of our current roadway system as we make drivers and cars smarter. (PS - Mass Transit could use some software to create service transparency)
Read on: 6) Build next generation energy systems; 7) Reinvent the Wheel; 8) Fleet only for Plug-ins; 9) Shift Revenue streams to After Market 10) New 'types' of vehicle & service
We're just a month into 2009 and it already looks like Jeff Hilford's prediction that the future will become a big media topic this year is coming true.
Hilford: The present stinks and people will turn their attention elsewhere. While many will pine for a return to the past they will be forced to look ahead. The doom and gloom of the economic meltdown and global warming combined with the incredible pace of technological change provide a fertile backdrop for projection.
Watching last night's Superbowl with a group of friends, my fractured attention was thoroughly captrured by the following GE ecomagination commercial featuring non other than a "wired" version of The Wizard of Oz's scarecrow dancing atop an electric sub-station:
From the Spot: Smart Grid technology from GE will make the way we distribute energy more efficient simply by making it more intelligent.
The ad succeeds at bridging technology with familiar non-threatening themes already loaded into our cultural consciousness. Clearly it is meant to sychronize with the Obama administration's recent and mounting rhetoric about smarter national infrastructure and influence how the latest $900 billion economic stimulus dollars will be spent.
It's also indicative of an impending shift to new industry that players like Google, IBM, Cisco and Johnson Controls (add GE = The Futuristic 5?) have been chomping at the bit for.
The future you hear about on the news is not what it appears.
Yes, the 'electric car' is coming, but do not be fooled by first generation ideas being fed into the mainstream media.
The short term challenges are probably being understated as the transition will take many years to unfold. But the long term disruptive changes are more profound than anything you might see on a 60 Minutes special featuring battery car owners in California.
Electric vehicles are likely to change our energy grid, roads, cities and suburbs in ways that are hard to imagine today.
Software - Drive by Wire & The Digital Driving Experience While stodgy Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces continue to characterize electric cars as expensive, wimpy cars- there truth is that electric drive systems offer a lower cost manufacturing platform and a flexible software based driving experience.
Establish software and location based services to vehicles, and you create a foundation for revenue streams based on mobility services in a 'wired and connected vehicle'. (Not to mention 'pay per mile' funding streams for transportation infrastructure instead of paying per gallon taxes.)
Companies like Johnson Controls, Microsoft, Intel, Bosch (et al) are developing 'drive-by-wire' software and microcontroller solutions that can make a car sound and feel like a Ferrari, a Mini-van, or Sedan with the push of a button. There is a huge upside in software-service sales that the digitize the driving experience.
Storage: Vehicle to Grid (V2G) & 'Skateboard' Vehicles on Sidewalks
Beyond the occassional post (or two), I have avoided 'Peak Oil' production issues because of its association with those who must always (and only) describe the future in apocalyptic terms.
But based on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2008 report, it has become clear that energy leaders have been using poor data of oil field decline rates (based on a lack of transparency) to support inaccurate forecasts.
Whether peak production has already happened, or will happen in 15 years is irrelevant since we are not prepared for either transition. So it is time to explore implications regarding the world's use of coal, nuclear energy, tar sands, and oil shale. (For those focused on Climate Change, the replacements for oil are not good news for carbon emissions.)
I do not believe that Peak Oil will destroy our civilization, but it certainly has the potential to make us humble, and to serve as 'the' catalyst for evolving our policies from a resource extraction to resource creation paradigm.
The following 40 minute interview is dated (January 2008) but gives a solid overview of peak oil's core issues: field decline rates, discovery rates, production time and costs and lack of real liquid fuel alternatives. [A more current hard edged interview by George Monbiot w/ Dr Fatih Birol: Link to video]
When imagining how much energy we'll need in the future we usually calculate the demand for homes, offices, and factories. But most forecasts ignore a highly probable, energy intensive process that will be in high demand during the 21st century - Desalination.
In the next century we will likely desalinate and transport massive amounts of water away from oceans to reach megacities and irrigate farms that will have to support 3 billion more people added to our planet in the next 40 years.
The Nanoscale Side of H20 How do we do this? Develop 'nanostructured' materials that lower the cost of desalination by facilitating reactions that use less energy to separate molecules leaving clean H20.
Earlier we covered a 'forward osmosis' patent claim by QuantumSphere that reportedly drops the cost of desalination by 70%. But other companies such as CDT and Proingesa are involved in advancing materials used in equally disruptive novel methods for desalination.
Now, Europe's research reporting service AlphaGalileo believes that advances in electrochemical capacitors could enable a new way of cleaning water. Capacitive deionization applies an electrical charge to water that makes 'the ions dissolved in the water migrate towards the electrode of an opposite charge, where they are adsorbed. In the regeneration cycle, the electrical load of the electrodes is switched off, therefore adsorbed ions are released.' The electrode materials used in this process are advancing around nanoscale designs that increase the reactive surface area. The result is less energy need to force the reaction.
There is a saying in the energy industry that 'the cheapest power plant is the one you don't have to build'.
The alternative to focusing on the 'supply' side of finding new sources of clean electricity, is to reduce the demand side of energy use.
There are many ways to be more efficient through better products (e.g. light bulbs, refrigeration), services (e.g. Smart Grid managment) and integration of new energy systems (e.g. energy storage, onsite power generation). And there are hundreds of companies that provide energy management solutions to homes and commercial businesses. But until recently we have not had an updated industry level forecast of how much energy could be saved given the right leadership and regulatory framework for utilities.
Looking ahead to 2030 A new study from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggests that efficiency gains could reduce the rate of growth for US electricity consumption by 22% between 2008 and 2030. 'The potential energy savings in 2030 would be 236 billion kilowatt hours, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 14 New York Cities.'
The EPRI study uses a growth rate baseline of 1.07% based on projections set by the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2008 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO 2008).
EPRI believes that with strong political leadership and regulatory changes electricity consumption in the U.S. residential, commercial, and industrial sectors could be reduced to an annual rate of 0.83% between 2008 through 2030. Under the most 'ideal' conditions that rate could be lowered to 0.68% per year.
Read more: Assessment of Achievable Savings Potential From Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in the U.S (Executive Summary)