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What If We Had a Squanderable Abundance of Energy? We Do.

July 20, 2013, 8:00 AM

A friend of mine, Bob Metcalf, is the founder of 3Com, one of the early internet innovators and he speaks about the internet, the future of the energy internet and that we’re moving towards a day and age where we’re literally going to be able to allow humanity to have access to more and more energy to the point where we get to what he calls a squanderable amount of energy, where we have more energy than we need.

In one sense we have a squanderable amount of information.  We take hundreds and thousands of happy snaps we never look at again.  It used to be when Polaroid film was expensive you would meter out the images you take.  Now we have a squanderable amount of imagery we can take and video.  I mean it’s extraordinary.

Today we use 16 terawatts on this planet.  If we bring the rest of humanity up to the levels the United States is using we’ll probably need to get to 50, 60, 70 terawatts of energy.  What happens when we have hundreds or thousands of terawatts of energy available to humanity?  Well lots of things.  For one we would have no problems on clean water.  There is plenty of water on this planet.  It turns out 97% of it is salt water and if we have lots of energy you can purify all the water that you need.  We’d have no issues on the climate crisis because you have enough energy.  You can literally extract the CO2 out of the air.  There is lots of technologies that can do that.  You would have the ability to take anyone you want to the moon, mars and beyond.  We’d be able to explore freely. 

Energy becomes literally the fuel that allows us to fulfill almost all of our dreams and what I point out to people is we do have a squanderable abundance of energy.  It happens to be sunlight.  We just don’t use very much of it.  We only use a fraction, less than a tenth of one percent of the sunlight that comes on, which we use 16 terawatts of energy on earth, but that’s as much sunlight as hits the earth in 88 minutes.  We have 6,000 times more energy that hits the earth in the course of a year.  The majority, 99.9 plus percent is never utilized or touched by humanity.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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