Pictures of energy technologies in the present and near future.

Written by Mark Nelson.

On June 13, 2017, Stanford University futurist Tony Seba gave a presentation at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society(CRES). He predicts a 13-year ramp up of solar power, autonomous electric vehicles, and large energy storage capacities, all with decreasing prices in the market. This convergence of technologies will cause a disruption in our transportation and energy systems. He presents his case in a YouTube video here. He says it will also disrupt our economic systems, just as the internet, the cell phone, and the adoption of business models have changed the speed of communication. Mr. Seba uses historical references, and a leverage of data trends, asking the question, “Why do people in smart organizations consistently fail to anticipate or lead market disruptions?” My answer: “Too many scary variables.”

In 1985, the cell phone was the size of a brick, and very few consumers had ever heard of Moore’s law. A customer survey on the adoption of the mobile phone would not have included the question, “if it was the size of your wallet, would you buy it?” You have to know the right questions to ask. Most organizations don’t educate themselves on predicting future shocking market trends, they produce products, and focus on the present.

Missing Elements

Today, high school science teachers only discuss three states of matter. In Mr. Seba’s estimation, plasma(4th state)  does not enter into his disrupting calculations. He is forecasting on a major shift in our energy and transportation markets. Predicting the behaviors of the public is like reaching for the brass ring, and stepping off a cliff. It gets smart people in trouble. But, Steve Jobs pointed to those who don’t fit, “the crazy ones” such as, James Watt and his steam engine, Orville and Wilber, and Elon Musk. They creatively transformed the world with the convergence of technologies and innovative business models. So, Tony Seba is partially right. Unfortunately, he is leaving out a possibly huge disrupting event.

That fourth state of matter needs to be included in Mr. Seba’s calculations, if not, he would fall into the category of “not anticipating…” Plasma technologies are entering into the very near future of energy and transportation. NASA has been working on plasma propulsion for decades, and nuclear scientists, on plasma fusion research. If plasma fusion research completes a break-even reaction of Hydrogen and Boron eleven, within Mr. Seba’s estimated period, it will create a black swan event for all referenced technology. Unanticipated by far too many, which would result in a shock throughout the economic world.

Leadership in Many Areas

Mr. Seba also anticipates the successful passing of laws that allow driverless vehicles. He presents a positive, hopeful side of political movement on a very uncertain technology. As I write this, the fossil fuel industry has already began to erode the solar industry by taking away government support. Here
We have also witnessed the great political landscape that has eroded our country’s leadership in science and engineering education.

Here is a disrupting thought, a positive reaction to these powerful disruptions in energy and commerce. Historically, technological shifts in energy have coincided with negative impacts that have cost a massive loss of life in wars. Anticipating and planning for the next shift away from fossil fuels has multiple positive benefits, including safety and security for people in the future. It would require planning, which means stepping off that cliff, but sets the stage to avoid those scary variables.

Coming Soon: Part Two – Finding the questions to ask.