The discussion originally started with my describing how a Self Healing Infrastructure (SHI) for Energy purposes can free us from one of the major survival needs of all human beings.
A Self Healing Energy Grid
The Zeitgeist of late has been filled with the idea that the autonomous future will make work non existent, any of my readers know I've been pioneering such talk going as far back as 2006 and the technologies I've built in the form of the AgilEntity platform and the invention of Action Oriented Workflow in 2004, are first steps toward making such systems of efficiency effective for the needs of machine human interaction. One of the many SHI related posts I've written covers the elements of the SHI that must be constructed in order for us to be freely liberated from the need to work. In the past, others have talked on these ideas prior to the invention of the internet and web but the necessary infrastructure in terms of software technology didn't exist, nor did the actual fundamental breakthroughs in physical technology (such as efficient solar panels). The Energy grid is about means for turning one form of energy into the electrical energy that is the life blood of much of the modern world, unfortunately our means for doing this involve burning the liquefied or compressed remains of 300 million year old+ animal and plant life.
Often we forget what it is about energy production that allows us to survive orders of magnitude more efficiently than species which do not directly harness such energy stores to enable their survival. The coal and gas and oil we burn directly enables our internal combustion engines to ignite and our crank shafts to turn and produce acceleration in our cars and boats, the same happens with the fuel we burn in the turbines of our planes to take across the across the planet, the same again are burned and then the heat is conducted to pipes filled with water...that then turn turbines of steam to produce electricity.
Finally, after delivery of this generated energy to our homes by companies that charge us for the exchange, we use it at our sockets to turn on microwaves to cook our food, to energize ovens to boil our cabbage and to light up the world by connecting to it via the internet on our electricity driven computers. The former examples are quite clearly survival aspects...eating is a requirement of direct survival for all human beings and our burning of coal and gas and oil directly enables us to prepare the foods we gather...but what of their gathering?
The food we cook is often prepared and processed using systems similarly energized by electrical means, the industrial meant processing plants that chop the chicken, pork and cattle into our cold cuts...depriving those conscious animals of their lives in the process, are all reliant on the delivery of electricity to run their blades. The refrigeration units that store the cut mean for days or weeks or months in order to equalize demand and supply and ensure that optimal profit can be made by the meat processing company via distribution are also fully running on coal/gas/oil derived electrical energy.
We can run this game down the line across everything we eat and drink and find that the utility provided by such technology to our survival is great however it is by analyzing what exists as an alternative that we truly come to deal with why it is so much better. Prior to the establishment of electric grids, an invention that was the vision of Thomas Edison in the early 1880's, people had to....on a daily basis, procure the elements necessary to produce energy for cooking their food. Food cooking, a practice that can be seen going back nearly 2 million years as performed not by Homo Sapiens Sapiens but further by our ancestors Homo Erectus was a critical innovation in our ability to survive.
So what does this have to do with the self healing grid, well first...because we have been developing technologies incrementally over time and liberating ourselves a bit at a time of necessary labors to ensure survival, we have also been carving away larger and larger percentages of our day away from survival tasks and toward leisure ones. A leisure task is one in which we can think deeply about pressing problems that are NOT directly survival related, like how to design better wind mills, or better ox carts or better water aqueducts.
The discovery of fossil fuels as a means to liberate the survival cost fed in the 19th century to the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. The coupling of this age and the Renaissance discoveries of the description of electricity, the explanation of how it was exchanged by various media, how it could be stored (Leyden Jars) and then later used to power all types of mechanical devices continued to pump efficiency of survival into our lives. As the 20th century came about, it seemed that there was no limit to the types of innovation that could be created using electricity in particular derived from the burning of fossil fuels and the conduction of super heated steam through turbines.
Unfortunately, the consequences of this process of gathering energy soon showed its other face in the form of massive increase in pollution in many of the major cities of the world, of smog thickened to cloud like opacity in NY, London and Paris. As governments rushed to place boundaries on the methods that companies could use to burn their gathered fossil fuels in order to exercise commerce the world choked on the results of our largess. It wasn't until half way into the 20th century that people started wondering if there were another way.
Time to make the Solar
The process of gathering the suns light using materials of various transmitive or reflective characteristics is an old one, examples go back as far as the Greeks in the form of the Ptolemy's optics. The use of lenses to induce the formation of heat goes back to the middle ages, yet as a means for producing consistent energy these devices simply had no application. There was no way to transmute the gathered energy so that it could be stored say in an intermediate fashion...either chemical or electric, those didn't happen until the 16th century or so with the invention of the Leyden Jar the first known chemical battery.
The advance of more efficient panel technologies using novel elements and dopants continued in 90's and the promise continued to grow but slowly, until the early 2000's when the idea of using nanotechnology to dramatically improve photon gathering density and conversion efficiency to motile electrons was attempted...this promise jumped through the roof with the isolation of the wonder material Graphene by Geim and Novoselov in 2005. Now the promise of solar is that by 2017 in the US, it will achieve "grid parity" generation of electricity with the fossil fuel driven methods, this will mark a critical point where the profit potential for producers will dangle as an increasingly juicy carrot relative to the *inefficient* methods extant that utilize fossil fuels. Once Solar is at that point, returns on investment can be made in a few years and there after surplus could then be sold back to the grid or via another technology also seeing revolution due to the use of nanotechnology, batteries be simply stored for the cloudy days.
Self Healing Grid On The Way
The fascinating history of the development of solar aside, we still have a few years before we see a serious kick in adoption and even then installation and repair will be an entirely human endeavor. The costs for generation and distribution will be cheaper than the same for fossil fuels for the first time in most parts of the world but they will still be present because humans will be in the process. This is where the idea of a self healing grid comes in, rather than rely on humans to produce, install and repair solar installations...we are now at a point where we can program automated systems to do every step of the process. The advance of machine learning and the integration of those methods into stationary and motile robots opens up the possibility for us to eliminate humans from the energy production and distribution cycle entirely.
This does several fundamentally game changing things:
1) It eliminates the costs that humans charge for designing and building the panels, if computers and robots do it...that can be made a fixed cost of creation once the costs for design (by humans ironically) are paid.
2) Such facilities would be running on electricity itself, which could be provided by panels first produced (when the humans are still critical to the process). This just bootstraps and pinches off humans from the solar panel production side of the equation.
3) It eliminates the cost of humans during the installation phase once we have autonomous agents installing fields of panels (for municipal, state or government installations). Once designed such robots can also be powered by the very fields of solar collectors they are installing and thus remove that costs from the total cost to human consumer equation.
4) It eliminates the cost of first level repair of the panels themselves as the robot installers can be designed to monitor, diagnose and repair panels when as they age and malfunction.
5) It eliminates the cost of second level repair of the robots that repair the panels, as if they are made in an automated factory that repairs robots such a factory also run on the grid would operate at near zero cost.
6) It would allow a tight coupling between the material procurement of raw materials for constructing the panels, for silicon panels the material is sand...one of the most abundant sources on the planet, for nanotube and graphene based panels the material is carbon...one of the most abundant sources in the Universe. Robots would assess based on energy utilization curves calculated from levels of human consumption, how much mining needs to be done of the various materials and the production of new fields can be keyed tightly to the demand of human consumption.
7) The mining of said panels could also be automated once autonomous intelligent robots are deployed to perform those tasks...as they could also be made to run on grid power they would also be zero cost to human deployment and use.
8) The mining bots would also have first level repair bots and those bots will have second level repair bots also powered by the grid...eliminating those costs as well. You can stop at two levels and have bots repair one another, or simply have the factory itself be smart enough to repair bots it produces, at the second level as monitoring of failure rates would ensure that a very accurate observation of deployed crews of bots...in essence this would be the establishment of a repair buffer for the two levels of repair which would make the entire chain resistant to variation in demand at the user end.
9) Regarding distribution, once the grid is energized, the entire process of connecting it to needed human utilization centers, of constructing power stations for use by electric cars and installation and repair bots and other devices can be automated fully (also by other bots!). This eliminates the middle men of power distribution companies and again keeps the zero cost model (to humans) going.
10) Finally, at the home...for individuals that access the grid...the costs would be near zero once the entire chain described in the previous 9) points is in place, leading up to that point the costs should FALL continuously as each are implemented. The other way to get to zero faster though is to simply deploy ones own personal grid, installed and paid for with super efficient batteries on site to store all stored energy for personal use...such individuals would pinch of from the grid entirely if they wish or they can sell back collected energy to the emerging self healing grid as it continues to develop.
It is clear that if we are to perform the above we would radically change the survival equation discussed earlier, a huge part of our needs would be provided to us by an infrastructure that in a very real sense is alive and serves our need directly. That provided good and service would then allow us to focus our lives on other things and will radically change the nature of human societies. We will be free to do more art, more design, more free play, more political examination and more of what ever is most important to us in our lives. In the past when we had innovations we can see how critical they've been to boosting humanity to new levels of contentment and the ability to provide for themselves with a minimal amount of work relative to the previous generation.