Energy is everywhere and everything. This is a central idea of Albert Einstein's famous e=mc2 equation. In the very near future it is possible to imagine that most surfaces on our planet will be able to capture this abundance of energy that we find ourselves surrounded by and made up of. All living creatures on Earth, including humans and their new robotic associates, demand energy to survive. Thanks to newly designed green technologies, energy is starting to be safely and sustainably captured. The huge demand for energy and potentially sustainable supply makes it a very strong candidate for a commodity-based currency. An energy credit if you will.
If the 20th century was defined by the industrial revolution, powered by fossil fuel extraction, the 21st century is gearing up to use our natural surroundings in a much smarter way. There are already pioneers creating a new green movement by looking to abundant and renewable energy sources to power our next nature. Pavegen’s floor technology can capture energy from foot fall that can be used around cities and perhaps one day in wildlife areas. There are new biofuels produced from algae and jellyfish that could hold the key to us growing our next fuel sources. Elon Musk’s solar panel roof tiles and Solarwindow’s electricity generating windows are showing us that solar capture can be easily integrated into our existing manufactured landscape. These examples illuminate a tiny fraction of what the future holds for energy.
One of the most interesting elements of solar energy is that it is democratising and decentralising the way in which our energy is generated. It is becoming exponentially more affordable for people to own solar panels and run their lives “off grid”. People and communities have already started to do this and many are now producing excess energy that they want to sell to others. One neighbourhood in Australia is trialling just that, using blockchain technology to record all the energy-backed transactions. We can think of energy-backed money as the now outdated gold-backed money of the past with a couple of key differences: energy is valuable to all and has universal functionality.
Solar power initiatives are not just happening in the global North either. It is estimated that 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity. Many companies and organisations now look to solar power as a way to leap frog the old, dirtier forms of power production and empower people to make and trade their own energy. This is happening both on an industrial scale and on a micro localised level with generally very positive outcomes. There is even an ambitious and somewhat controversial project named Desertec that is working on delivering energy to the entire world using a few major solar farms. There is of course a cryptocurrency that is also focusing on solar electricity generation called SolarCoin. It runs as a global rewards system and so far has rewarded people with over three billion dollars to generate energy through solar panels.
Energy of any kind - thermal, electrical, chemical, or even nuclear - can not be created or destroyed. It can only take a different form. To explain this take this simple example. Everytime humans work, we spend energy. If we make a car, which is a physically tiring work, we transfer our energy to the finished product. We are then compensated with money for this work. This money can be spent on food, which will buy the human body more energy to work again the next day. Energy is transferred between systems, giving power to one system while taking it away from another. Money can be seen as nothing more than a way to record (buying and selling) this movement of energy.
If we see energy as everything (the sun, coal, forests, humans, animals, robots) it starts to become easier to make a stronger link between what we value and our physical reality (the biosphere). It is also easier to distance ourselves from the virtual wealth created by complicated financial tools, like future derivatives, Stock Market speculations and the idea of debt-based money. These tools create little value in our daily lives, making the economy and our debts grow and grow until they don't and recession happens.
Our new green technologies have created a world in which all can produce clean energy. This energy can be the basis of a new money that can be created by anyone and spent anywhere in the world. Would demand for energy decrease if it were to become such an abundant resource? Perhaps. But then perhaps we should look at this currency as a transitional money, one that will not be around forever but will let us get to a future of abundant energy in a faster, cleaner and greener way.
Read the whole Alternative Currencies, Alternative Realities series.