The world around us is changing – everyday, we are changing not just how we perceive it but how we use it, as well. A hundred years ago, we were weaning the American population off of whale oil lamps and onto using electric bulbs; today, we carry enough power in our pocket or on our wrist to power a bright, low-watt led bulb for several hundred continuous hours – weeks, if we’re conservative. Developing a nation takes electricity – as we become more advanced, more conscientious, more aware and globally connected, we try to consume less. This brings up the question – what does the future of electricity look like?
I won’t lie – the future looks pretty exciting, especially in terms of light. But what does that mean for electricity – generation, consumption, and what we use it for? As we use less and less, where we put it is going to matter more and more. I don’t see us living in Tron anytime soon (although it would be cool), but I do see us moving forwards into previously uncharted space within the next ten years. I have no idea what it’s going to be like in a hundred years – you probably don’t, either!
In my personal opinion, the most exciting thing I see coming for us as a society is integrated electric management systems. Being dependent on technology is not quite my cup of tea – but neither is nagging my husband to close the door because the air conditioning is on, or following my daughter around and turning off lights behind her. If there was a way that my house could talk to my thermostat which could talk to my smart meter and in between it saved me a lot of money – I would be very happy! What seemed like science fiction 20 years ago is quietly becoming the standard of living – motion sensors on light switches, blinds that react to sunlight and change their own direction, artificial intelligences living in our thermostats and studying our habits, smart meters that tell our utility companies our consumption patterns and electricity monitors you can use to play spy on your own appliances. These products are already out there – and every day they get integrated and utilized in new and amazing ways. Not only that, but each step pushes us closer to that fancy Jetsons push-button existence. The future of electricity is going to be automation and integrated, communicative smart-structures.
Here is something that feels counterintuitive and yet is really the landmark of a forwards-moving society – Direct Current. Better yet, DC micro-grids. Sounds weird I know (especially given my obsession with David Bowie – I mean Nikola Tesla) but the truth is that as we discussed in our earlier articles on AC vs. DC, both forms of current have their usage, purpose, and strengths. We are still reliant on motors and turbines to drive our nation forwards – but we also use an endless series of electronics that need solid state electric charge or produce it. I love that our obsession with consuming DC in our electronics is matched only by our passion to create it with renewable energy sources like the sun. The future of electricity is going to be taking direct current and maximizing its utilization in our day to day lives. Ultimately, the shorter the distance we transmit our electricity, the more efficient and effective it is.
Why DC? Because I believe that micro-generation is also going to be a huge part of our future as a civilization – homes that produce all the electricity we need, for everything we want, and kick a little (or sometimes a lot) back into the grid for everyone else. We are, as a society, developing awareness and education into the value of choosing renewable – so much so that people who cannot afford it, have no space, or don’t own any land are investing themselves into community renewable farms. Micro-grids inspire a sense of community, of connection, and of accountability. I believe that we should produce more than we consume – and to judge by the reaction of others, I am not alone in those feelings.
Last of all, I feel like the big landmark of the future in electricity is going to be its mobility. Perhaps mobility is the wrong word – but it feels applicable and right. We wear electricity and carry it in our pockets – now we are developing ways to beam it invisibly through the air. What does this mean for the way we live? It could mean we can change the way people in isolated parts of third world nations exist – driving through with a ‘wireless electricity’ vehicle and charging batteries for light, cooking, communications – bringing power where it is almost impossible to transmit it. I imagine it means that someday we can wear light as art and clothing, and as we pass from areas with charge to areas without power, our clothing and appearance would change. It might mean homes and business and buildings illuminated by aesthetic lights perched wherever we deem them necessary; movable because they don’t need cords and aren’t tied down! It could mean being able to charge electronics without plugs in public spaces – free wifi and ‘wi-tricity’ at our favorite stops. It could mean harvesting solar energy in space and beaming it to earth – it could mean a million amazing things we can’t even conceive of yet!
History suggests that as we become more efficient and conservative, this will leave room for other nations to develop. Other people suggest that our electric consumption, as a whole planet, will only increase and magnify over time. Whatever the truth of the matter is, developments are already in place for a nation that will move forwards into a future that only a few have dreamed of or imagined. We do not know where we are going – and while we don’t have any flying cars or jet packs, we seem to have moved into something a little less fantastic and a lot more fascinating.
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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