Thinking Beyond our Fossil Umbilical

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The world is changing, we all know it. We need to act and many of us are searching for ways to contribute. There are many options being considered, the main ones are part of able economies to transition to renewables. At the COP and G20 nations cooperate to take measures noone can deny or avoid because they are applied to all (except the dark economy (illegal activities,drugs, arms trade)).

This is all better than nothing, but its also not enough and there’s a clear reason for it : We are not thinking ‘roboeconomically’ meaning from the prespective of a renewables powered world. We are reasoning from “how to get on from a fossil powered economy”. This is like when you jump over a stream, focussing on the side you are on and not on the side you are about to jump into.

The edge of the fossil fuel economy

For example greenhouses in the Westland of Holland are searching ways to become less carbon intensive. Plants need heat, you can get it from a geothermal source, plants need CO2 you can get it from a powerplant that does CCS. Then you feed it into the Westland greenhouses and your flowers can grow using less gas. But why would you be in the Westland? Mainly because its close to Schiphol (relatively) there’s an enormous flower hub right next to the main airport of Holland. The flowers are just an excuse for a lot of activity that uses fossil fuels, generates revenue for banks, oil and gas companies, logistics, and delivers a week of largely ignored visual and fragrant pleasure to the world.

Now if you use oil you need to be on land, the oil ships in from Rotterdam (probably) to Schiphol. The gas is shipped in from Russia (now or in the near future) using pipes. The trucks that haul the flowers run along the highway, have fuel stops at convenient places. In short, energy logistics determines the location of economic activity. You don’t produce a product you want to distribute to the world in say Luanda. There’s no logistic capacity because there is no energy infrastructure or steady supply of oil delivered there.

The above however is ‘old world’ thinking if you focus on the other side of the renewable energy transition. Flowers are not the best example because it seems they are marketed exclusively to generate cashflow without adding too much to the world (typical for any succesfull economic activity). Lets think about it in roboeconomic terms. You can first of all grow them in the countries you sell them in, if you use renewables nobody in Holland will get rich from you transporting the flowers. You will generate your own energy to do that (Solar will become dirt cheap or free).

So the plants will be in greenhouses, distributed over de globe (the greenhouses), run by you (you designed the system) and they will be delivered to the ‘consumers’ by your own electric vehicles that you also use for other jobs (unless you grow flowers continuously). You fertilize the flowers with CO2 you filter out of the air and concentrate. There may even be a carbon capture component in it. Where can you be doing that? Almost every whereon the planet, even in the middle of the Atlantic.

If you think about it Tesla is using this new business model already. It runs gigafactories, it looks to source everything it needs as locally and directly as possible. It looks to use renewables and deliver the products locally. That way it does not generate shipping emissions. It has cut the umbilical to the fossil energy sources (or tries to). A good test is to see if there’s money flowing out of the operation (to fossil fuel companies usually). If there is no money flowing out, you are good. If you think about it some more you see that banks hate this, and its usually companies themselves that close the leaks, using their own money.

Energy markets have been developed to ensure the price of power always remains valued against fossil fuel. So if you sell power to the market you have not ‘cut the umbilical’. This is a great way for the fossil sector to depress prices and harm renewable energy’s ability to support wealth creation.

So Giga battery factories where they are needed, one using Lithium from the ocean, the other using Lithium from salt flats. All with solar power on the roof to power the production lines. Electric mining, electric logistics. You can do that in the middle of the Sahara, you don’t need money from customers. This is the paradox of the Roboeconomy : You don’t need to make profit, you just need to ensure your renewable energy capacity is sufficient.

In a woorld where fossil fuel logistics no longer form an invisible umbilical cord between the oil/coal/gas wells and production locations, those locations can be anywhere with sufficient renewable resources, not necessarily near cities, with AI/Remote working not even necessarily near human resource hubs. If you can run a train to the civilized world on the power of your own wind turbine, so you don’t care how far it needs to go, you can choose your location. If you had to make sure diesel was available, and be in negotiation with the diesel company on how close they’d make their deliveries you’d be stuck near a port for sure.

Its time to spread out, that also means people. Let’s hope we get time to do it..