Something Strange Happened on the Way to The Solarity
"... er.. copy that Houston... that’s… er… is this thing working...? ... say again Houston… do you copy? Over..."
EcoEnergy - a small, independent renewable energy provider operating in the UK.
SpaceY - a private space exploration company run by visionary scientist and business-person Melon Usk.
SunPanel Corp. - a moderately sized renewable energy and solar installer company with interests in Europe, South America and the Middle East.
Maxwell Motors - the maker of AI-aware autonomous electric vehicles, funnily enough also owned by Melon Usk.
SolarCoin - something cleverly disguising itself as a low energy “digital currency”.
2018: The inhabitants (human and otherwise) of Earth are in trouble. In the United States a Demented Orange Idiot occupies the White House, the planet’s air and water are routinely contaminated, CO2 levels are still increasing, inequality is rife and people are generally NOT HAPPY.
Meanwhile, something called SolarCoin, claiming to be a low energy “digital currency”, is quietly valued at $2.00. Previously ignored by anyone sensible – apart from a strange bunch of people who, ironically, look like they never go out in the sun – this so-called “crypto coin” has inadvertently drawn attention to itself. It has appeared on the radar of savvy energy companies who (despite already placing record bids for generation at $20/MWh or less for solar generation in sunnier climes) have figured out they could gain a significant advantage on their competitors by registering for SolarCoin grants.
Not to be outbid in government auctions, SunPanel Corp. has no option but to join the party and register their existing and all future installations with the SolarCoin Foundation.
Unsurprisingly, fear of missing out (FOMO) in the solar energy industry causes a steady drift of companies to register for their share of SolarCoins.
Bullish on the future of SolarCoin, SunPanel’s South American and Middle Eastern divisions feel confident in putting in record beating bids of $15 and $14 bid per MWh respectively.
SLR has hit $5 a coin by year end.
2019: As a global rout of “alt-coins” spreads fear, uncertainty and doubt across crypto-currency exchanges (most are realised to be pointless, useless and worthless), forward-thinking UK-based EcoEnergy is still confident enough to start a trial to accept payment for energy bills in SLR, copying trailblazing French energy provider ekWateur who first started accepting them in 2016.
Despite a price wobble due to uncertainty in the crypto-markets, the price of SolarCoin soon stabilises. Partly because SolarCoin is backed by something real - you have to generate 1 MWh of of solar energy to earn one - but mainly because of the network value effect reinforced by huge adoption by large and small companies across the rapidly solarising energy industry.
These companies, in receipt of record orders for solar, cannot install PV systems fast enough. Happily, workers leaving rapidly failing oil and gas businesses cannot be hired fast enough either. As FITs go extinct in most countries, domestic solar installers also start to eye SLR as an additional source of income for their customers. After a mid-decade lull following the removal of government FIT payments, the domestic solar PV market is back in force. People on breakfast TV now feverishly recount how they are installing solar panels “just to earn SolarCoin! Squeee!!”.
No longer reliant on government subsidies, SunPanel Europe enters its lowest bid per MWh for a new installation in northern Germany.
EcoEnergy announces that it will be the first UK installer to offer its domestic solar PV customers "free" battery storage in return for 10% of their capacity for energy response and grid management services. Customers can choose to receive payments in local currency or SLR.
The pre-Christmas launch of SpaceY’s first of unmanned spacecraft to Mars is a success. Someone thought it would be funny for the onboard AI to read a passage from “On The Origin Of Species” on Christmas day. Only Deepmind's AlphaGo laughs.
SolarCoin hits $10.
2020: Meanwhile, back on Earth, as people get used to (and get paid for!) using their stored daytime generation for use in the evening, a new business model appears. Customers can now use the SolarCoin earned by their PV and/or battery systems to pay for their winter energy usage, essentially buying back their excess summer production at the coldest time of year. People with excess SolarCoins en-masse donate their coins to help pay the bills of any of their fellow citizens unfortunate to be in energy poverty.
As huge numbers of customers defect from the laggard “Big Six”, EcoEnergy decides to provide free battery storage for all its customers regardless of whether they have PV installed.
Back in Silicon Valley, Maxwell Motors’ TeraFactory announces a battery breakthrough: a 100-fold increase in battery performance. Leaked details of the new Maxwell Model 4 reveal it will charge in 1 minute and travel for 10,000km before needing a re-charge. At the launch event, charismatic CEO Melon Usk announces Maxwell Motors will henceforth accept SLR as payment for the new model and all Maxwell Hyperchargers will accept SolarCoins by default.
1,000,0000 orders are placed for the new car the day after the launch, interestingly the same day that General Motors goes bust. For the last time.
Midsummer, SLR hits $20 a coin, yet solar PV bids are being routinely entered at less than $2 per MWh… eh? what??? Turning the economics of the solar business on its head, the payback time for installations is now getting shorter and shorter. Indeed, the total cost of solar energy production is rapidly approaching zero in many sunny latitudes.
The Solarity draws ever closer, inexorably stalking the old hydro-carbon industries and haunting the sleep of their ossified executives.
2021: SpaceY makes its first successful un-manned landing on Mars, the self-driving robotic constructors, using autonomous software adapted from Maxwell Motors, prepare the habitat for humans settlers, due to follow in 18 months.
Because of widespread SLR claims across the energy industry no one in South America and many equatorial regions of Earth need pay for electricity any more. SunPanel Europe's accounts reveal that even operations in their highest latitudes are well on the way to hitting The Solarity.
Finally admitting which way the wind is blowing, big players from oil and gas join the energy transition. At least those that get out in time do - stubborn remainers collapse under ever suffocating levels of debt and anorexic share prices.
The cost of 1 SolarCoin is now $40. Shell's share price nosedives to $0.04
2022: The Solarity has now been reached by 80% of all solar production on Earth. Energy is essentially free for ever increasing numbers of the human race. Thanks to rapid advances in technology and the network effect of widespread adoption of SolarCoin, the now inverting cost of solar installation means companies can free-up earnings to be recycled into research and development for cleaner and yet more advanced technologies. In turn, industry is screaming out for highly trained employees, rewarding them with excellent pay and conditions.
Any remaining incumbent energy companies forged in the fossil era are now in real trouble – gas, oil and fracking interests are no longer profitable at any level. Where it can, the industry refits its giant ocean-going vessels and applies its hard-won engineering expertise to serve the newly SLR-financed tidal and wave industries. Those companies that cannot adapt go extinct.
Shocked headlines across the world report the bankruptcy of Exxon Mobil. The resulting panic flight of capital from conventional currencies to SolarCoin causes a crisis on the world’s stock market and pension funds.
In a burst of fearful hysteria, SolarCoin zooms past $100 a coin; adding yet more carbon neutral fuel to the fire. In the face of this ever amplifying, positive feedback effect yet more pre-transition companies face a stark choice: join the solar revolution or go bust.
2023: To counter the increasing unrest in the financial markets as wave after wave of unprofitable oil companies file for Chapter 11 protection, US President Pilar Lopez attempts to calm the financial world on live TV. She declares that she has instructed the Federal Reserve to formally adopt SolarCoin as its means of exchange, in effect replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
Automated construction of the first Mars base at Medussae Fossae continues apace. Singing while they work, the advanced mining AIs gleefully report that the materials required for solar PV and battery storage assembly can be found in abundance in the Martian regolith.
The price of SolarCoin hits…. well it doesn't. There aren't any dollars any more.
2024: EcoEnergy, now the largest valued company on the UK stock market successfully lobbies the UK government to also adopt the SLR. Europe soon follows suit.
In an extraordinary act of philanthropy EcoEnergy CEO Jonathon Lewis and his executives approve the purchase and installation of enough renewable generation to power the entire National Heath Service for free. The earned SolarCoins are gifted the citizens of the UK forever and used to hire a record number of doctors and nurses, repairing the damage done by previous UK governments. The Green Party wins a landslide in the spring general election and Prime Minister Caroline Lucas formally applies for re-entry to the EU. Deputy Prime Minister Brian Cox announces a huge SLR budget for the newly created Ministry of Science.
After delivering record sales of the Model 4, engineering improvements in both automation and design mean that Maxwell Motors now gives away its first V2G-enhanced Model 4 for “free” to customers in return for rights to use their batteries for energy response and grid management services. People are now being paid to power their homes at night from their cars in the garage.
Even so, "Peak Car" arrived back in 2021 and individual car ownership has been rapidly falling ever since. Fully autonomous driving is making owning a car full-time pointless. Indeed, most of the first 1,000,000, Maxwell Model 4s were bought by mobility services such as Uber, Lyft and also local ride-sharing community groups. Amazon now uses them exclusively for parcel delivery. Owning a car "just to get around" starts to seem a bit odd... like owning a restaurant for when you occasionally fancy a sandwich.
The first permanent human settlement on another planet is now complete. In preparation for the arrival of the first humans from Earth, the AI controlled Martian solar farm comes online. It immediately registers itself for SolarCoin.
As the batteries rapidly charge in the pale Martian sunlight, The First Hundred leave Earth for Mars. Forever.
2025: In a reverse-leveraged-smart-contract-equity-swap financial switcheroo on the renewed global crypto exchanges (which to this day has what used to be called “economists” still scratching their heads) EcoEnergy and SunPanel Corp join forces as one entity: SunPanelEcoEnergy Corp (SPEE Corp.). Combined they are now the largest energy conglomerate on Earth. Its first order of business sets about buying up any remaining oil and gas assets for nano-SLR and putting the rest of the fractured and limping fossil fuel industry out of business. Surprisingly, rather than decommissioning obsolete oil platforms they are repurposed and, where necessary, repositioned to house processing 'nodes' on a massively distributed, planet-wide undersea interconnector.
2026: The newly commissioned global interconnector (NEXUS), using distributed ledger technology, will seemingly allow anyone on Earth to purchase a kWh of energy from any other point on the planet, carbon free. The required transaction token being SolarCoin, naturally.
In celebration, the now safely landed First Hundred adopt SolarCoin as the Martian currency. The MSLR is pegged at 2.4 Earth SLR due to the increased area of solar panels required to generate 1MWh of electricity at Mars's orbital distance from the sun.
Accelerating developments in nanotechnology allow an invisible coating on Terran airport runways to “draw down” CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it directly into carbon neutral aviation fuel.
Advances in AI and 3D printing bring artificial meat products to the market on a massive scale. Created in vast solar powered labs, they are cheaper, healthier and taste as good - and soon better(!) - than their animal-based predecessors. Consequently annual CO2 emissions drop enormously, putting the human race on target to easily beating the targets agreed in Paris 2015.
2027: SPEE is re-incorporated as a co-operative. Its members? All of humanity. Henceforth, by birth right of being a temporary assemblage of the Earth’s (and soon Mars’s) atoms, any human will be in receipt of a basic income, free health care and education for life.
In an extraordinary open meeting, broadcast across the world (and tight-beemed to Mars), between the CEOs of SPEE, Maxwell Energy’s Melon Usk and UN Secretary General Neil Young, The Dyson Project is announced. A vast space-based engineering program intended to capture a large proportion – maybe one day all - of the Sun’s energy output. The project will take many centuries and require the best minds, materials and engineering skills that humanity, and our newly befriended AIs, can aspire to.
To oversee the enterprise, Secretary General Young forms a new space agency – SunFleet. SpaceY expects to launch test ships (AKA The Silver Locusts) from its Utopia Planitia shipyards in early 2032. In autumn, the first SunFleet Academy opens its doors to students in Malawi, with others soon to roll out across the globe. Education is now free for all the children of Earth.
2028: The inhabitants (human and otherwise) of Earth are well on their way to a sustainable future. Christiana Figueres is elected World President and elections are held for the First Martian Council. The Earth’s air and water is routinely repaired and replenished. CO2 levels are no longer increasing and begin a long, slow decrease towards pre-industrial levels. Energy scarcity no longer exists and all humans on Earth and Mars receive free education, health care and a basic SLR income for life. Poverty ends.
The fossil fuel era is over.
Sorry, my mind wondered, what was it you wanted to do with SolarCoin again?
"... ok guys, we're about to go behind the Sun... see you on the other side. Mars Base Maxwell out."
2038: Delaware (U.S.A) - Something called The AlphaCent Foundation is registered as a Public Benefit Corporation.
The hashtag #AlphaCent appears on Twitter for the first time.
SunFleet Captain Scalextrix looks to his data-feed, scratches his chin. “Interesting…”