From the earliest days when a fire was used for warmth and light to the development of electricity to power our technology, we’ve increasingly relied on energy sources for our everyday needs. An important question emerges in lieu of these developments: Can we power future technologies in ways that simultaneously conserve our planet?
We are creating and perfecting renewable energy to run future technologies. Oil and fossil fuels are necessary for at minimum 20 to 30 more years, but they are unsustainable. Future technologies will be most efficiently run using renewable clean energy sources that don’t pollute the environment.
In this article, we will investigate what energy use will look like in the face of future technologies and how it can benefit you and future generations. We’ll also explore why a shift from nonrenewable energy sources is inevitable and critical for the longevity of our shared home, planet earth.
What Energy Will Future Technologies Use?
Our great-grandparents would be astounded by the technologies interwoven with our lives today. Cellphones, air conditioning systems, televisions, gas, and electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, and all the devices we enjoy today would sound like pipedreams to them.
These developments in technology have corresponded with a proportional increase in energy consumption. TheWorldCounts estimates that throughout 2022, we’ll have used a staggering 580 million trillion joules of energy worldwide. This figure is equivalent to about 13,865,000,000 tons of oil.
And as you regain your composure from seeing all those zeroes, allow us to draw your attention to the 900 million trillion joules projected to be necessary for 2050.
Meanwhile, our primary energy sources get depleted quickly as demand increases each year. When these resources run out, they’re gone for good. Fossil fuels are also a leading cause of global warming, a prime indicator of climate change.
We need cleaner sources of energy, fast. Fortunately for us and incoming generations, these sources are already being used. With additional design and testing, they should be available to power future technologies when, hopefully even before, the need arises.
Aging U.S. Electrical Power Grids
Many components on the U.S. Power grids are 25 to 40 years old and, in some cases, much older.
It is important to remember that U.S. power grids are highly vulnerable to many issues, including terrorism, weather (including solar storms), and the age of the systems themselves.
We discuss the aging U.S. power grids in our articles “What Happens if the American Power Grid Goes Down?” and “Should You Be Worried About Weather-Caused Power Grid Outages?”
We have seen a recent influx of homegrown terror attacks on the U.S. Power grids by persons shooting guns at the grid substations and knocking them out for days or weeks.
In 2022 we saw shootings of two Duke Energy substation transformers in North Carolina that knocked out power to 45,000 people. Another attack in Washington state on Christmas day, 2022, also took out power for 14,000 people.
These attacks are not new in America but have been surging since 2021 and are on the increase. Domestic terrorist attacks are causing non-weather-caused power grid shortages and blackouts which again shows their vulnerabilities.
Electric Vehicles Affect on Aging U.S. Electric Power Grids
Being in full support of new energy technology does not mean you don’t think things through first and especially their effect on current infrastructure and overpopulation.
If California or any other state believes they can just add unlimited electric-powered charging stations for electric vehicles, and outlaw the purchase of new internal combustion engines by 2035 without completely revamping their power grids, they will need to reevaluate those decisons.
Federal energy commission report after report and the American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 Energy Infrastructure Report Card has told a different story in the last 20 years. The American power grids are in deep disrepair, and anyone telling you differently needs to do their homework.
In addition, many states in the U.S. are already experiencing rolling blackouts from weather-caused problems like drought-induced heat and freezing weather in 2022.
In a recent visit to Las Vegas, Nevada, it looks like every 20th car is a Tesla these days, especially as rent-a-car companies put more on the road. Electric vehicle sales and use increase will be another drain on the already stressed current electrical grid infrastructure in many U.S. communities.
Electric vehicles give us hope for the future, and technology will only improve with time. Electric vehicle batteries, their energy storage, disposal, and cost are all concerns for the future.
New or Increasing Sources of Energy
Let’s dive into information about these energy sources one by one.
The sun is the earth’s first and most foundational power source. Autotrophic organisms, like plants and phytoplankton, absorb the sun’s energy to form their food. Later, that energy is distributed among every other living thing on earth.
Recently, we’ve discovered that we can harness the sun’s power to run our ever-increasing technologies. The sun releases lots of energy to earth. Some solar radiation is reflected back into the atmosphere. Oceans and landmasses absorb a little more.
The Department of Energy asserts that the remaining energy can satisfy our global power demands 10,000 times over. Of course, this energy is spread out unevenly, a foundational problem we face as we try to tap into it.
That’s where solar panels come in. These photosensitive light capturers smartly convert solar energy to electrical energy, powering everything from homes to industries.
Solar Energy’s key challenges become apparent as we attempt to get the sun to do our bidding:
- Consistency: Solar energy is not abundant enough in all parts of the world due to cloud cover and different climates for a consistent power supply. In constantly cloudy climates, solar energy is currently too sporadic to be a power supply that can be counted on. This may change in the future with better technology and more efficient solar panels.
- Cost: Power generated from solar panels is pricier than its coal equivalent, which is $0.08 to $0.15 per kilowatt hour versus $0.06 per kilowatt hour. These differences balloon with increased energy use, which has slowed solar adoption. Buying and installing solar panels is also costly.
- Storage issues: The sun doesn’t shine all day or all of the time, yet the demand for energy consumption runs 24/7. It’s therefore essential to find ways to conserve any extra power generated when the sun is out for use when it’s not. Thermal mass systems and off-grid photovoltaic systems are some measures developed to combat this issue.
- States and Utility Companies: Not everybody loves solar power, and many utility companies do not embrace getting electricity back into the grid from homeowners as it affects their bottom line. On December 15, 2022, The California Public Utilities Commission cut payments to homeowners for solar panels feeding energy back to the grid. This proposal will reduce compensation going to homeowners who supply surplus electricity from their home’s solar panels to the California electric grid.
The cost of widespread solar energy adoption, and storage, as mentioned earlier, remains a significant limiting factor. What may help though is having no power as the nation’s power grids get overly taxed by extreme weather like drought and freezing weather?
There are small residential-sized and massive commercial wind turbines that can convert kinetic energy to electricity.
However, this energy source is less of a no-brainer than it may appear at first glance. The wind is highly unpredictable, a major setback to this energy source that requires sustained wind to function at its best.
Large commercial turbines must be placed on enormous open swaths of land or at high altitudes to capture the most wind.
Despite these challenges, global wind-generated electricity adoption jumped 17% between 2020 and 2021, reaching 273 TWh in the latter year. According to the International Energy Agency, these figures make wind the leading non-hydro renewable source of electricity.
For residential use, the current wind turbines found on places like Amazon.com can only power your laptop or phone. If you are serious about wind power for your home, you will have to look at real turbines like those provided by companies such as Windspire Energy or WePOWER Vertical Wind, depending on your area.
Overcoming the challenges it presents is a challenging feat. As a result, the wind should be used complementarily with other clean energy sources to run future technologies.
The mention of nuclear energy might leave a bad taste in people’s mouths when they remember disastrous events involving it. The storage of nuclear waste is also a huge problem (maybe Space X can launch the nuclear waste to the sun, hurry, somebody tell Elon).
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average age of U.S. nuclear power plants that were operational as of December 31, 2021, was about 40 years.
Nuclear energy comes about in two primary ways:
- Nuclear fission, which involves splitting uranium particles
- Nuclear fusion, which results from combining lithium, boron, and hydrogen isotopes to generate energy
Fission is the more developed strategy of the two, and currently, Uranium is mined from below and above-ground mines, which can be bad for the workers and the environment and cause cancer from Radon gas. The nuclear energy industry wants to make uranium from seawater in the future, but it is not viable at this time.
Alternatively, fusion has an unlimited lifespan thanks to the abundance of its ingredients. Facilitating it is more complicated than the trouble it takes to enable fission. Given its huge potential, forward-looking scientists are hard at work to develop ways to generate electricity viably via fusion.
As per the International Atomic Energy Agency, as of December 31, 2021, there are “currently 437 nuclear power reactors in operation in the world with current output is 389.5 GW(e). Another 56 under construction with a toyal output capacity of 58.1 GW(e).”International Atomic Energy Agency Nuclear Power Reactors in the World – 2022 Edition
Nuclear energy presents unique challenges that must be overcome to ensure it’s a safe, clean energy source to power future technologies. Here are some of them:
- Dangers associated with the operation and waste disposal
- Building safe, dependable nuclear power facilities
- Establishing a skilled workforce to operate nuclear power plants
- Substantial negative public opinion
Fusion has been the world’s energy source of the future for years, but unfortunately, no one has figured out how to use it yet until possibly now.
In a recent announcement on December 14, 2022, from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories National Ignition Facility achieved fusion ignition and scientific energy breakeven, the first fusion reaction that produced more energy than it took to create.
This first-of-its-kind breakthrough could be the beginning of a clean energy carbon-free power source without emitting greenhouse gases.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories has the world’s largest powerful laser system and is in a 10-story building the size of 3 football fields. This laser can deliver nearly 2 million joules of ultraviolet laser energy. This laser creates temperatures and pressures like those found in our sun.
Commercial fusion power is believed to be 20 to 30 years away, but humans have been wrong before, and that could be a good thing with all the work and funding that has been contributed. Hopefully, fusion power will be available sooner than later.
Energy Honorable Mentions
The four sources mentioned above boast the highest probability of being used on a large scale to satisfy our soaring energy demands cleanly. However, a handful of smaller-scale options can also contribute to a greener future for our power generation.
These are some of them:
- Oceanic energy: Tides and waves offer expansive kinetic energy that can later be transformed into electricity, particularly in regions with temperature differences and vast depths. Nevertheless, the technology we need to exploit the ocean’s electric capacity is still in its infancy.
- Geothermal energy: Perhaps the “perfect” source of energy, geothermal sites tap into the heat from the earth’s interior to power various sites. Minimal land is necessary, and the earth’s heating capabilities are endless.
Not so Honorable Mention – Biomass Energy Plants
- Bioenergy, Biomass, and biofuels: Biofuels define oils from animals and plants that are used independently or with other fuel sources to yield electricity. Biomass requires a lot of plants and animals to be feasible, hence their small-scale applicability and contribution to environmental disasters.
- Large-scale burning of forest tree’s in biomass energy plants is an extremely immature and wasteful idea. Why would we incentivize farmers to clear forests in order to grow biofuels and add to global warming?
- Clear-cutting the world’s old-growth forests is an environmental disaster on multiple levels.
Powering future technologies may seem daunting, but current innovations in green energy generation should ease our minds about our capacity to satisfy our burgeoning energy requirements.
There are, of course, differing agendas in the energy fields, and you can take one problem and replace it with another.
If we do not address our aging electrical power grid with components up to a century old in the United States, we are doomed to defeat within our own country with something that is fixable. Extreme weather and terrorism of the power grid are real problems that need to be dealt with.
Some energy production methods are yet to be invented or perfected, but we should have the energy to run future technologies if we work on them now.