Friday, January 9, 2015

The Storage Problem

2015 Predictions? Short answer? No.

Longer answer? Well, I will not report on trending. There are plenty of lame-ass pundits and puffed-up know-nothing billionaires out there that will give you wrong information about the future of 2015 or beyond in editorials using trending. Seriously, fuck trending. Anyone can do trending.

The prognostications range from steady progress of the rosy Whiggish types to the panicky squirt-stains of the collapsitarians. And invariably no one gets anything right. Because, you know: trending.

I, on the other hand, will give you the same stuff I get off on: disruptions and shit out of left field, from least to most impacting. And, as first reported in this essay, any predictions revolve around the Storage Problem.

Quickly: Energy storage. How's our information part of energy storage going? Quite well. Thirty years ago, if I wanted to find something out, I'd head to the library, rummage through books or magazines, maybe even hit up the microfiche, and it would take hours or days to find out what I needed to know. Ten, or even twenty years ago, I'd use google or altavista or yahoo search. Now I talk to my mobile. Storage access has become more ephemeral over time, but search time is way, way down. This storage problem - if you ignore Big Data (and that problem is solved with quantum computing) - is well in hand for now. So, if you think of a battery for information, then the battery is quite large, getting exponentially or polynomially larger, and access/exchange is adequate.

The rest of the storage problem? Because once you start thinking of things in terms of batteries...

Have a look at this article, as, even though a lot of people poke fun at the article itself, it has a great graphic model that informs my take on things.
R Kummel, credit

This little model train set pretty much sums up the workings of the super organism consisting of us food-powered robot monkeys with one weird quasi-eusocial insect mutation. You will notice from the comments in the article that most people say, "well duh you included energy in the model". Yup. The nice thing about this model is it is a network where you can weight the effects of the nodes and the links, like little dials that you can twist and turn and see what happens when you change the weighting.

Well, number one is labor, because without all those food-powered robots, you got no network period. But...

Your energy source matters. Turn that energy dial down. Back when it was muscle and animal power, or muscle and wind, wood-fire, and water power, creativity and labor mattered a lot more.
Capital kicks in with leveraged infrastructure (aqueducts, dams, mill races, windmills, etc), but labor is still number one. (Really, still is, if you consider that the world was still pretty much neolithic subsistence farming well into the late 20th century...).

Crank the dial up to use fossil fuels, and capital takes over (not management, that's labor, but the physical instrumentalities of capital become increasingly important). Crank that dial up even further, and you start to surf the crest of the S-curve. So, playing with that dial, historically speaking? Yeah, trending. But there can be surprises, and that's what I'm interested in.

But maybe we are thinking of the energy dial the wrong way. Maybe that dial should more properly be thought of as a spigot. So, think of that energy box as, not quite infinitely large, but finitely huge, and the spigot/dial is the flow through we get - going from very low (muscle power), to very high (fission/fusion). So now, it's actually energy density that we are varying. And so, my predictive disruptions ranging from low to high:

1) Somebody builds a better battery. Maybe even an atomic battery! Alright maybe not an atomic battery, but let's say a battery that gets us close to the same energy density as gasoline. Hook it up to a renewable, and make it fairly mobile, and watch out. A new battery just accelerates things. Probablity? Inevitable. Impact? Not that much. In the developed world, more and more mobile devices and more powerful power tools. Maybe some decentralization in the power grid. In the developing world? Leapfrog with solar panels and power wagons loaded up to travel anywhere to supply electricity. It's starting to happen. this just accelerates the leapfrog some.

2) Fusion or LENR or compact safe fission( yes, it can be done). Well, it all depends on how big it is. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that only a government or corporate consortium could build fusion, as I expect fusion plant to be a behemoth. Strike that. Corporations are timid people, friends. Probability? Low. Impact? Not immediate, but over a generation, and entirely different world.

3) Not-so-low temperature superconductors. Maybe even room temperature? I'm not counting on that, but the physics news rumors are that we are getting closer and closer to understanding superconductivity, and we might have a breakthrough. Our material manipulations are getting finer and finer. Probability? Inevitable. Impact? Holy shit!

Let's hope 2015 is our Holy Shit Year.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot. On the trending front? Extreme weather tourism is gonna take off.