Hot rocks and the post-scarcity economy

As I write this, drilling has just started on the UK’s first deep geothermal power plant.

As you’ll see today, this could turn out to be a turning point in the UK’s energy story.

Most electricity is generated by turning a turbine in some way. Wind, wave and hydroelectric power does this directly, coal, nuclear and biomass use steam to do it.

When you learn this in school, the usual childish response is, “Why can’t we just use the lava under the ground to heat up water and make electricity?”

At least, that was my response. But then I was a weird child.

I mean, it makes sense. You need heat to make steam to power turbines to make electricity. To get this heat you can either burn things, excite radioactive elements or simply take it from the earth.

Of course, you need to be lucky enough to live in an area where the rock structure is right. And luckily for us, the UK is well suited – if you drill deep enough.

The two holes now being drilled for this geothermal plant will be 1.5 and 2.8 miles deep. The deeper of the two will be the deepest hole ever drilled in the UK.

Water will then be pumped down, heated by the “hot rocks” and come back up as steam and hot water, which will power turbines and make electricity.

The plant is being built in Redruth, Cornwall. When it’s finished it will provide enough clean electricity for an estimated 3,000 homes.

Geothermal electricity is about as simple an idea as you can get. And as people like to say, the best ones often are.

Geothermal Engineering, the firm in charge of the project, says geothermal power could provide 20% of the UK’s electricity and heat energy needs.

“A SpaceX moment for fusion”

Fusion power has been getting a lot of press time in the last few months.

It even gout a shout out in last week’s budget:

But even more notably, the wold’s billionaires have turned their eyes towards it.

From Bloomberg:

Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Peter Thiel are just three of the billionaires chasing what the late physicist Stephen Hawking called humankind’s most promising technology. Scientists have long known that fusion has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, but development costs have been too high for all but a handful of governments and investors. Recent advances in exotic materials, 3D printing, machine learning and data processing are all changing that.

Even if none of these private ventures crack the technology that has always been “just a decade away”, it won’t be all in vain.

Just as with the space race, the technology being created to further fusion power will filter down to more areas.

Better superconductors will held with medical machines and advanced software simulations of super-hot plasma will educate scientists.

But even with all the new private ventures, most hopes still lie with the huge multi-country collaboration project ITER. This has been going 30 years – and doesn’t expect to produce anything for another 30 years.

Again, from Bloomberg:

ITER remains the best bet in terms of breaking the code for producing cheap energy on a massive scale, according to Nawal Prinja, a nuclear engineer at Aberdeen-based John Wood Group Plc and a featured speaker at the forum in India.

“They’re coming up with all kinds of new ideas to make the industry more efficient, but turning ideas into a commercial station is a different story,” Prinja said. Only ITER, Latin for “the way,” has the resources needed to perfect the kind of reactor that can run entire cities, he said.

Nuclear fusion would provide humanity with a near-infinite supply of power and solve some of the biggest problems facing people today.

With fusion power there would be no need to burn fossil fuels, and no need to fight over oil. All the energy we would ever need would be readily available at virtually zero cost.

Basically, the ITER project could be a major step in leading us into a “post-scarcity” economy.

From Technocracy Wiki:

Post scarcity or post-scarcity describes a hypothetical form of economy or society, often explored in science fiction, in which things such as goods, services and information are free, or practically free. This would be due to an abundance of fundamental resources (matter, energy and intelligence), in conjunction with sophisticated automated systems capable of converting raw materials into finished goods, allowing manufacturing to be as easy as duplicating software.

So, although ITER may still be 30 years away, if it succeeds it could turn out to be the single most important creation in the history of humanity.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Energy

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