In 1960, the famed theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson proposed the ultimate renewable energy technology. Since referred to as the “Dyson Sphere,” the proposal described a group (his word: swarm) of objects orbiting around a planet’s native star in order to capture as much energy as possible. Most likely, these objects would be solar power satellites that would then send the energy they collected back to the home planet. Of course, this technology does not exist, and is not likely to exist for some time. But the idea, that a civilization could harness the full power of a star and therefore break reliance on planetary fuels, is inspiring and intriguing.
We all know that the world circa 2012 is built on fossil fuels, namely coal and oil, though natural gas is making a major push of late. As of 2011, renewable power sources (wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels,) generated about 4% of the world’s energy, with nuclear, hydropower (~16%) and fossil fuels accounting for the rest. I won’t go into the doom and gloom scenarios any renewable energy proponent knows well, but suffice to say we need to do better. Companies like UGE are doing their part, but the world, simply, is not changing fast enough. Is it perception? Laziness? Cost? Greed? No doubt a combination of all of these factors and more.
So if global societies can’t change their behaviors and priorities fast enough, what can be done? An extremely broad question, to be sure, that cannot be answered in a short blog post. There are certain technologies, usually future technologies that are referred to as “black swans.” The term describes a technology that will make an unforeseen, disproportionately high impact on society that will break normal expectations for emerging technologies. There are firms, such as Khosla Ventures, that specialize in targeting such technologies, as they will provide the greatest effect and payoff. Should a Dyson Sphere, or any of its many variants, come into being, it would likely have this level of impact.
UGE is proud of its products, and strives to improve them tirelessly. But we know we can’t make a global impact alone. We know that it will take more than a few wind turbines and solar panels to turn the tide of history. No one can tell where or when the next black swan will appear, but society can do more to encourage development of renewable energy tech, especially in education curriculums at the high school and college levels. If enough brains are putting their energy toward solutions, perhaps Dyson, who is still alive and well, will live to see his fantasy become reality.
-- Written by Nicholas DePaul