An assumptive plan to change our energy problem

The fundamental reference architecture for how we live, work and deliver energy is wrong. It's killing the species and choking our ability to live free and enjoyably. In that regard, I am a big believer in the 15-minute city. We need to rethink everything. IEVOA has been critical to shaping my thinking and the message we get out there, but I want to go broader.

Whenever we talk about energy being sustainable, cost and effectiveness is a confusing barrier to entry for folks. And it gets even more confusing when considering battery energy storage. 240tWh is what the world needs to store power when wind isn't blowing or solar isn't producing. That's a lot, but it isn't a silly amount. When you consider the fuel mix in Ireland, getting to the storage needed here is a big investment, but a huge long-term win for the country from a sustainability standpoint, but also a cost-effectiveness and reliability perspective. It's too difficult for an island nation with dramatically increasing energy demands to increase grid capacity without natural oil or gas to rely on.

Moreover, fossil fuel is deeply inefficient. I don't think people realise how utterly inefficient it is. Fossils only deliver about 20-30% effective energy. The rest of it is lost as heat. This means in a normal vehicle reliant on petrol or diesel, up to 80% of the fuel consumption is simply lost. Only 20% of it is being used to move the wheels. It's also incredibly expensive to extract, refine and transport fossil fuels.

The opposite is true for electric energy. It's ubiquitously possible to generate and store electric energy. Switching to an electric economic stance would demand less than half effective energy required than today. Starting at zero, if presented with these two options, it would be lunacy to choose fossil. Land usage for solar to electrify the entire globe would be 0.2% of all land mass for solar panels. And this can (and should) include rooftops. A lot less mining than we do today would also be required, contrary to defenders of fossil fuels' thoughts.

In fact, mining for iron ore, nickel, etc. will reduce over time. Fossil extraction only reduces because we will run out of the raw materials. But for key materials for sustainably energy, we've found resource increases over time because, as it turns out, there's a lot of those raw materials there; they're not as precious as we first thought 10-15 years ago. Moreover, they're not isolated to specific regions in the world, avoiding oil-state power dynamics in global geopolitics. But even better, most of these materials are recycled once the battery hits end of life. You can't renew fossils once it's spent. There is a future state where we can stop mining most raw materials for energy because recycling is so efficient.

For the average household, the switch comes in phases:

  • Renewable energy through solar
    • EV adoption
      • Yes, active travel & public transport is preferrable, but in this isntance I'm calling out removing fossil for the average household specifically.
      • From "well-to-wheel," Tesla's Model 3 is 4x more efficient than a Toyota Corolla
    • Heat pump adoption
    • Sustainability in large transport modals, namely airlines and ships
      • Airlines for long-haul will take time but short-haul is not as difficult as people think

Over a 20 year window, we (as a species) invested $14tn to sustain and extend the life of fossil industries. To completely invent and build-from-scratch the sustainable industry has cost $10tn in that same window. And will require a lot less "maintenance money" over the next 20 years, while maintaining fossil infrastructure will cost more. To my initial point, we cannot sustain the fossil industry. From mining, refining, storing and moving fossil fuels all the way to only getting 20% efficiency out of that effort is absolutely asinine. We need to change.

The average household can make simple changes to electrify through solar PV, heat pumps and driving an EV. You can amplify that difference by using public transport, cycling more and changing your diet to be less reliant on meat. While that happens, trust that an entire industry is forming to solve the most complex problems to scale the tech around this. And governments are switching onto this as thinking deeply about sustainability equals votes.