Most discussion of technology with regards to climate change focuses either on energy efficiency or green energy generation. Given that the next 10-15 years is going to be a time of dramatic technological change, perhaps we should expand our focus a bit.
Improvements in software have now laid the groundwork for expanded use of machinery, principally robots, drones and driverless cars. It seems clear that there will be very large numbers of them deployed throughout the world in the coming decades. Deployment is already being led by military applications. Typically that transitions into police and other first responder organizations and then into commercial application and finally home use.
Many of these new machines will replace humans, which is already worrying many. I personally will welcome the arrival of our new Robotic Blogging Overlords… But many of these machines will be doing things that humans cannot or will not do.
This means that these technologies will spur energy consumption. If these technologies innovate and spread as quickly as other recent technological advances there may be tens of millions of each of them by 2050. That’s actually a sizable amount of energy. when Google driverless gyrobikes are bringing your groceries to your door while sushi comes to your window via a drone, it will all take power. When community service has to be redefined because robots are picking up the trash along the county highway, the robots will be using power.
This is likely to provide added impetus to research in improved batteries, which is all to the good. However it should sharpen our gaze on the fuel portfolio for generating electricity. We’re going to need more energy than people think.
As these are only three of the next generation of coming ‘gadgets’ I think it is safe to assume that we will need a lot more energy than people think. The last generation of innovation has been purposefully invisible–your computers, televisions and mobile phones are better by far, but they’re pretty much still the same shape and size, coming in the same boxes.
The next generation of technological change will be very different.