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Julian Blanco

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Do we really want free/cheap energy?

Do we really want free/cheap energy?

Let’s imagine that one of the current alternative energy efforts where wildly successful and energy cost turned to virtually zero, what would happen then?

My hypothesis is:

The price for stuff would sink
Consumption would multiply exponentially
Earth resources would consequentially be drained exponentially faster as well
We will likely have an environmental catastrophe (possibly threatening our existence)

Today the economic limit of production is the energy price (simplifying here), what if the energy cost didn’t matter?
You could fish the seas faster, build larger boats to do so nonstop, as the steel to build them will be cheaper because the machines to extract ore will be less constrained, and so on.

I would love to hear the perspective of the TED community.

On the other hand, if we use this to expand outside earth, then resource consumption and environmental issues are gone.

Regards!

JB

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  • Nov 19 2012: Nice food for thought, but partly reductio ad absurdum.
    A society in which the price of energy has reached zero, fundamental scientific breakthroughs have occurred in several fundamental fields including materials science. Steel, plastic and other current fossil energy based derivatives would be far less attractive as newer, better, cleaner and cheaper options would be available. The innovations and social adoption that are needed to reach 'zero energy price', change the energy related infrastructures in such a way that the methods of today would be considered uneconomic and inefficient. You're statement would obviously be true if it happened tomorrow/overnight, leaving all other factors unchanged. But that is science fiction. I do believe that within the process of reaching the ‘zero price point’ we would see some negative and positive fluctuation in the usage of fossil energy and its derivate products/services, but that is already the case. Eventually they would disappear, at least in the way as we use them today. (it’s not sure whether we reach that point, but that is not part of the hypothesis)
    The essential factor in exploitation of the earth’s resources (faster than nature can keep up with) is caused by human nature, and not by the price of energy. As long as the world’s population keeps increasing at the same pace or faster and modern societies maintain the same consumption patterns, the problem remains intact.
    Conclusion; The way towards zero energy price is what’s most important. Furthermore, I think that free energy/almost free energy is equivalent to significantly lower carbon footprint (they cannot be free/cheap for a large population for a long period if they are not highly efficient and cradle to cradle). Finally, low carbon footprint only solves our climate problems (huge as it they are). Problems with water, food and land need similar attention, and as you pointed out, they might be negatively affected by the availability of free energy.(continued)

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