… we react by trying to curtail demand.
What if, instead, we worked on increasing supply?
Austin Vernon and Eli Dourado ask just such a question in a lovely paper titled “Energy Superabundance: How Cheap, Abundant Energy Will Shape Our Future“
In this policy paper, authors Austin Vernon and Eli Dourado explore what life would be like with endless energy. Coining the term “energy superabundance,” they look at energy policy, not in the usual sense of trying to restrict energy consumption, but as a way to promote energy abundance—a future in which energy is so clean and plentiful, limiting consumption would be entirely unnecessary.https://www.thecgo.org/research/energy-superabundance/
The paper is lovely for a variety of reasons:
- You get to learn a lot about what is going at the cutting edge of a variety of sectors in terms of technological advancements across transportation, agriculture, water usage and material deployment. There are also sections on urbanization, and some speculation about what lies ahead in a concluding section.
- It’s sprinkled with interesting factoids which add, at the margin, to your model of the world. Such as Marchetti’s constant, for example, or about start-ups like Nuro, or that 4% of all electricity consumption in Denver goes towards growing cannabis.
- The most exciting (tantalizing is a better word, I suppose) prospect is for the deployment of miniaturized nuclear technology. As the paper says, this is still a ways off, but the prospect of accessing electricity without being dependent on a grid is a giddying one.
- There’s a bit of econ history as well, such as a brief mention of the Jevons Paradox. ANd speaking of economics, there’s a fascinating paragraph about aircraft economics.
But above all of these, I liked reading the paper for two main reasons. First, this is a paper that is about optimism and technology, and in my opinion, this is a relatively underexplored niche. Underrated for sure, at any rate.
And second, because as a person who loves introducing the principles of economics to people, it’s a great way to help people understand that there’s more than one approach possible when confronted with high prices. Demand curtailment and the drive for efficiency is one – but dramatically increasing supply is another.
And technological optimism is worth a deeper think, no matter where you fall on the spectrum in this regard.