In a weekly column, alternately written by Lucien Engelen, Mary Fiers, Maarten Steinbuch, Carlo van de Weijer, and Tessie Hartjes, E52 tries to find out what the future will look like. All five contributors – sometimes accompanied by guest bloggers – are working on solving the problems of our time. Everything to make Tomorrow Good. This Sunday, it‘s Tessie Hartjes’s turn. Here are all the previously published columns.
We live in a world that is changing rapidly. It sometimes feels we are heading into a future where highs and lows follow up each other ever more quickly much like stock markets that go through crises and record highs.
There are a few developments however, that really give me hope. One of them is the fact that solar energy will cause a snowballing, democratizing effect, very similar to what the internet had.
Fossil fuels prices are volatile
Let’s start with the fact that solar will bring a stabilizing effect on our economy. Here is why: A huge portion of our economy, about 10%, is tied to fossil fuels. Now the problem is, that fossil fuels are resources and the problem with resources is that quite some effort is needed before they are usable at the place and time you want to use them. The extraction, conversion, transportation, and sales represent a huge business and a lot of complex trading tactics are in play to facilitate the fact that you can fill up your gas tank of your car. The prices of these fuels are therefore highly speculative. They can drop or increase by percentages per day, just because of political instabilities, economic downturn or mere speculation.
Solar power can provide a stabilizing force
Strangely, people often perceive solar energy as a much more unreliable energy source than their fossil counterparts, because of its fluctuations in energy output during the day and its seasonal changes. But if you look 10 years ahead, battery technology and solar technology combined will deliver the cheapest and perhaps even the most stable energy source anywhere in the world. Now let that sink in: we might actually quite soon shift the 10% of our economy tied to fossil fuels into investments in a technology that we can place on the roofs of our houses. And the great thing about it is that it will provide energy not just for a week like a tank of gas, but for more than 20 years. That the whole speculative nature of energy because it used a be a resource, will be something of the past.
But this will only get us started. Because energy is the cornerstone of prosperity. Earlier this year I wrote about eradicating energy poverty with solar power. A few weeks ago after watching a great documentary called ‘Virunga’, I stumbled on a statement made by the Director of Virunga National park in an interview published by National Geographic Society on hydroelectric plants:
“Energy is the interesting one. That’s the second pillar of our development. Energy in itself doesn’t create a lot of jobs. We’re building small off-grid hydroelectric plants, each generating between 8 to 30 megawatts of power. The plants themselves don’t create that much employment, maybe 50 to 60 workers on a plant once it’s built.”
But for every megawatt of electricity that we produce and send into the community, it will create between 800 and 1,000 jobs in that community through business growth. This is essentially because of the availability of a cheap energy source. That’s proven quite reliable as a figure.”
Business needs energy
With energy from renewable sources and a stable electricity supply, you can start building a business. Whether you are a butcher that needs to conserve meat, a construction company that needs tools to work or a tourism destination that needs to serve food and communicate with tourists, you need a reliable electricity infrastructure, one that you can depend on, so you do not disappoint your customers.
Services like high-speed cellular networks rapidly follow because of the electricity that can now be used to power them. That will give them the ability to access the internet and all of its knowledge. A simple smartphone can turn into a device that teaches children new languages, maths, physics and makes them ready for higher education. It might eventually get a billion people out of poverty.
Because the sun rises every day. There are few other things that can be said with more certainty.