Free Energy – Becoming a Reality
In the 1960s, hype surrounding the possibility of free energy began in earnest. Enthusiasts backed nuclear fusion as a potential provider, but it soon became clear that the sheer exponential cost made it totally impractical. However, that was before the development of renewable energy like wind and solar. These low to no cost solutions could provide a conclusive answer to the question of efficient, clean energy. Despite growing global demand, the industry is still dominated by hardware and legacy companies. This has led to energy shortages and cut outs, notably in South Australia. In order to achieve an energy supply which is clean, efficient and sustainable, these established systems need to change. But the key question is – even with a mass industry update, is free energy really an attainable goal? And if so, how will it be achieved?
Is free energy possible?
According to global investment bank Citi, combining Big Data and advanced analytics with cheap energy solutions could signal free energy. It’s definitely true that software has improved forecasting and automation, giving us greater control over our energy output. By combining data techniques with energy use, innovative utilities have tailored supply to match demand with far greater accuracy. This has led to cheaper energy, but it’s only the very beginning. The concept of free energy starts with giving consumers the ability to store unused power and then sell it back to the grid, essentially recycling energy itself. All this might sound like an ambitious dream, but some people are taking it very seriously. Last week, Elon Musk promised the South Australian and federal governments that he could solve their recent energy issues in just 100 days. If his 100MW battery storage system couldn’t put a stop to the blackouts, then the SolarCity CEO will install it for free.
Solar and wind appear to be the most accessible and well researched ways to generate cheaper, clean energy, but they aren’t the only options. As well as other renewable energy sources like tidal and thermal, researches have explored the possibility of extracting energy from ‘the Quantum Vacuum’ – in other words, space. On top of this are Virtual Power Stations, which bring energy storage devices together and operates them in a centralised, digital location. Regardless of which method is used, achieving free energy won’t be instant, but the first steps are now being taken to deliver far cheaper power.
How disruptive is dirt cheap energy?
Cheaper energy will, first and foremost, save money. For example, instead of investing in a $1 billion upgrade, Con Edison created a programme that combined traditional and novel utility improvements at the fractional cost of $200 million. Through democratisation (by giving customers the ability to regulate their own power storage), energy will become recyclable in a sense. We’re not just talking about households here – factories and businesses could also benefit from new distribution methods, making the most of power and generating revenue by pursuing energy conscious strategies. Cheap or indeed free energy initially sounds like bad news for legacy providers as it will cut their profits. But it isn’t the end for existing companies, as they will still have an important management role to play when devolving control to consumers and regulating energy transfer.
Outside of the industry itself, the availability of clean, highly affordable power will contribute to a sustainable future. In the face of climate change, this disruption is necessary. As important as sustainable power is, it’s hindered by a number of factors. For starters, researchers need to make renewable technologies run smoothly to encourage adoption. Even if the supply was without error, are governments and utilities really going to give up their hold on traditional energy? It’s painfully obvious that they should, but whether or not they will is an entirely different matter. Another major obstacle to overcome is the negative (and frankly nonsensical) attitude towards renewable energy. The federal government of South Australia, for example, blamed the energy blackouts on unreliable renewable technologies. If governing bodies don’t recognise the need to invest in clean power, then development will be useless.
Free, clean energy could provide an answer to the growing demand for energy worldwide. Once renewable technologies have undergone further refinement, they will avoid the cuts and blackouts created by high demand. Democratising energy will transform the nature of supply, giving people more control over resources and contributing to sustainability by only using what is necessary. The use of data analytics to enhance operations is yet another example of positively disruptive software. The industry could benefit greatly from innovative solutions, however there are numerous barriers that need to be addressed – for example, the continuing rejection of renewable energy and the reluctance of legacy utilities to adapt. Perhaps Musk’s latest ambitious project can convince Australia – and everyone else – that sustainability is the way to go.
In combination with advanced analytics, will renewable energy solutions help to create free energy? What other barriers stand in the way? Will Musk’s venture in South Australia be successful? Share your thoughts and opinions.