Nuclear fusion is close enough to start dreaming – the twin cities
Nuclear fusion startup Helion, which announced this month that it has raised $500 million, says it has developed new technologies that may make nuclear fusion feasible, economically and environmentally viable. It’s too early to tell if her allegations will ever go away, but there have been too many hacks recently to be ruled out.
The possibility of generating zero-carbon energy raises a question that is rarely discussed: How much would it change the world if cheap, clean energy sources were truly plentiful?
Keep in mind that one source of cheap clean energy will lead to others. Nuclear fusion may not be used to drive a jet plane, but perhaps it can be used to produce relatively clean hydrogen fuel, which can then be deployed in ways that fusion cannot. A chain reaction will occur, eventually delivering clean, cheap energy across the economy.
As an established traveler, my first thought is that I will be able to get everywhere more quickly. How about a supersonic or perhaps suborbital flight from Washington to Tokyo? The journey to Antarctica will not seem daunting anymore. Many remote places will be transformed, and one hopes for the best.
One secondary effect is that countries with good infrastructure planning will reap large relative gains. The express train from Paris to Nice will get faster yet, but are the trains on the Ascilla Pass?
Next in line: Desalination will become cheap and easy, Enable the transformation and reclamation of many landscapes.
Nevada will thrive, though a strong environmental debate may arise: How many deserts should we conserve? Over time, Mali and the Middle East have become greener.
What about heating and cooling? It may be possible to manipulate the outdoor temperatures, so Denmark in January and Dubai in August would be unlikely. It wouldn’t be too difficult to melt the snow or generate a cool breeze.
Wages will also rise significantly. Not only will more goods and services become available, but the demand for labor will also increase. If traveling to Tokyo was easier, the demand for pilots would be higher. Eventually, more flying will be automated. Bots will become more abundant, which could lead to more second- and third-order effects.
Cheap energy too Making supercomputing more available, encryption more convenient, and nanotechnology more bearable.
However, with relatively many physical goods, People may invest more resources in searching for a niche. Buying membership in exclusive clubs – that select group of people who own original Van Gogh – may become relatively more expensive.
Reducing climate change will not be as simple as it may seem at first glance. Yes, nuclear fusion could replace all those coal plants. But the secondary consequences do not stop there. As desalination becomes more feasible, for example, irrigation will become less expensive. Many areas will be greener, and people may raise more cows and eat more beef. These cows, in turn, may release more methane into the air, exacerbating a wide range of climate-related problems.
But all is not lost! Because energy would be so cheap, preventative techniques — to remove methane (and carbon) from the air, for example — would also likely be more feasible and affordable.
In general, in a carbon-neutral world of energy, The stakes will be greater for a large subset of decisions. If we can clean the air, that’s great. If not, the overall increase in drastic change would create a whole host of new problems, one of which would be more methane emissions. The “race” between the destructive and regenerative forces of technology will become more important. The value of high-quality institutions will be much greater, which may be a concern in many parts of the world.
In the short term at least, countries rich in fossil fuels such as Saudi Arabia and Russia will be the losers. In the long run, many commodity-producing countries will have to worry, as countries like China may find it easier to grow more of their soybeans and stop buying from Brazil and Argentina. Drought-stricken regions with deserts and water problems but decent institutions could be among the major winners; Perhaps the American West will continue to make economic gains from the East. All that extra land could be put to more productive use, but improving NJ could be more difficult.
As is often the case with new technology, the challenges are real but the potential is enormous. I look forward to when this new world will come.
Tyler Quinn is a columnist for Bloomberg. He is professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Against a Hero.