The American industrialist John D. Rockefeller found himself in a tight spot after nemesis Cornelius Vanderbilt conspired to shut down his rail transport. How was he to get his kerosene to consumers? Rockefeller put his money and his name on the line. He would build the biggest network of pipelines the world had ever seen. Although vilified by many in his day, his practices of cartel and monopoly would be unthinkable in today’s business environment, not to mention the fact that people today are aware of the dangers of fossil fuels on the environment. But that’s not the lesson here. Let’s go back to these pipelines. Today pipelines are the subject of much scorn from environmentalists, but in the 19th century this truly was a remarkable endeavor.
Today we don’t use kerosene to read our books at night, if we even read books at all. Instead the power comes from electricity. Above ground power lines can be seen just about anywhere in the developed world. We see them along roads. We see them sloping down hills and mountains. They’re everywehre. We just accept them as part of our lives, giving them not much thought at all. Then there are, of course, underground power transmission cables. These cables are less efficient and more costly to repair. Both systems require transmission stations and substations. For the sake of argument, we’ll focus on above ground systems.
By far, the biggest hurdle in solar energy is storage. While better batteries are continuously being developed, and alternative methods of storage envisioned, a better method would be to capture excess energy from places where the sun is shining and transport it to places where it’s not. This idea is not new. GENI, or the Global Energy Netword Institute has been on the case for decades. GENI cites the obvious benefits of a sustainable world power development.
Decreased pollution from fossil and nuclear fuels
Reduced hunger and poverty in developing nations
Increased trade, cooperation and world peace
Enables health care, communications and access to clean water
Stabilized population growth
I envision overseas, above ground cables on floating substations that transmit solar generated power of direct from nations with light to nations with dark. This could happen in two ways. The first, which would be a two way system simply reverses the direction of power when night and day reverse. So, the United States could send their excess power to Japan, and Japan to the US. Like all of my big ideas, this would take a huge investment of John D. Rockefeller proportions. Calling Mr. Gates. Anyone here? This would require huge treaties and diplomatic solutions, if not taken on full by governments. Either way, it could work. Whereas years ago, power lines would lose efficiency after a few miles, nowadays power can travel thousands of miles according the the GENI data.
My ideas are a bit different and not as involved as GENI. I’m focused on solar energy and solving the storage problem, but reducing poverty and conflict would be a nice side effect. I encourage you to read this page found on GENI’s website to find out more about the history of this concept and their vision.
There are other ideas along these lines as well. Space-based solar power proposes that we collect solar energy in space and transport it to earth using a laser. I like this kind of wild speculative thinking, but it still doesn’t solve the day/night storage problem (as far as I know, lasers don’t curve yet). It could give us way more energy than we could use, but what good is it if we can’t use it at night.