The nuclear disaster that occurred Fukushima has of course brought out the danger of Nuclear technology. Never mind, if new technologies like NuScale’s modular nuclear power plants are coming online, and never mind how research into nuclear technology is important in the future exploration of space. Never mind how such a technology could matter in the ultimate survival of our species beyond this plant. That isn’t to say those in favor of green technologies as alternative energy sources are wrong. In fact, it isn’t the green technology itself but the fear about other options that is bothersome. It is, ultimately how to maximize viability of alternative energy that’s the key. So the question is: how disruptive should alternative energy sources be?
There have been very interesting urban designs that have come out in the past decade. William McDonough’s Cradle-to-Cradle design of a city for China is one. Thought the project didn’t pan out, the concept is irrevocably an interesting idea. The design concept would have our farm lands on top of the buildings. Factories will have massive solar panels that would power not just the factories themselves but the whole city. The City was designed in such a way that the sun will always strike every part of the city at least once a day. Transportation is always a five minute walk. Sewerage is likewise recycled and reused. When one looks at the design, it is like turning a city into one huge ecosystem.
The best thing about McDonough’s design, it compliments the environment. That’s the dream isn’t it? To live in a world where our technology, our modern life doesn’t disrupt nature, but is a part of it.
But is this the right way to go? Is this disruptive enough?
Currently, society sees electricity as a utility. We have a power plant somewhere, and we have transmission lines going from that power plant to our homes and offices. Some of the arguments against solar, and wind for example, we will need a huge chunk of land to generate electricity to power our towns and cities.
MIT a few years ago, had a major discovery. They discovered a catalyst that when applied to fuel cell technology would mean carbon-free electricity enough to power a house, or an electric car a day or a night. The technology was inspired by photosynthesis.
That’s the key right there. Imagine future houses 15 to 20 years into the future, drawing their power from the sun. We’re not talking about setting up a solar energy plant a few kilometers away from town. No, this is about each home having its own solar panel, and using that to power the house, as well as to keep going for days on end. This means, electricity isn’t a utility anymore. We can have home designs or building designs that generate their own electricity; that pump and recycle their own water. City designs are going to change, because each house, and each building becomes self-sufficient.
The real future of an alternative energy source from an energy efficiency stand point and from an economic standpoint is to disrupt the status quo of having utilities serve power. It is about bringing energy to the masses. It is about making each house, a power station.
The contention has always been the inefficiencies of using alternative energy sources and delivering them to the customer. What if that’s not the answer? What if the answer is commercializing technology so that each home or office becomes energy independent? Is the future of energy independence about being disruptive enough to break the status quo?
Image credit: via MIT.