The development of technology leads to the fact that the value of many things tends to zero. What we once paid so much, now is cheap or even get for free is to buy a computer, to call on the other end of the world, take a photo, watch a movie, listen to music or even go to another country. More and more things will join this list. Perhaps one day there will be electricity. Pretty cool, huh? After all, free. Who doesn’t love free?
The energy issue is very complicated, actually.
The cost of burning coal is already not falling, but the cost of collecting solar energy continues to fall. In October 2017 the electricity bill in Saudi Arabia fell to 1.79 cents (this is on average five times cheaper than in Russia) per kilowatt-hour, beating the previous record in Abu Dhabi (2.42 cents kWh). Not surprisingly, these incredibly low prices are a legacy of the sunniest parts of the world. In other parts of the world, both in the US and in Russia, prices fluctuate at the level of 5-13 cents per kWh.
Whenever we think that prices can’t fall off, they fall — and the best thing about this constant price decline is that this happens not because of the batteries. Cheap and efficient batteries still lag far behind the overall pace of development of energy systems and especially renewable sources of energy. But as soon as we learn how to properly and cheaply save the energy constraints will be very little. And also the reality will become transparent solar cells that will turn each outer surface of the glass into a small plant.
What will the world with free electricity? Electricity would be ubiquitous in many parts of the world, where else did not. Other places will disappear electricity bills. Production costs will fall, will drop transport costs and all the costs involved too.
The money we save on energy could be spent on social programs or even to create a universal basic income, which will help to build a just society. If everything is cheaper, we will not have to work more to earn more money, which means we will free up your time and we will be able to direct it in a creative direction.
And yet, every coin has a flip side, and the old adage that the best things in life come for free in this case does not work. Let’s see what happened when we did other resources are free or cheap.
In the United States has made food cheap and abundant by learning how to produce it in scale — and the problem became worse than ever. We produce plastic bottles and packages for a penny, and now the oceans are crammed with cheap and non-degradable waste.
The Jevons paradox is that as soon as technological progress increases the efficiency of the product or resource, the rate of consumption of that resource grow due to growing demand, which directly reduces the efficiency of the savings. In the end, deep down in his nature of humanity only takes, and electricity is no exception.
The middle East countries where the price of electricity is the lowest in the world, became a shining example. Excessive energy use has become commonplace, and there is no incentive to rein him in. Ideally, the energy consumption per capita should be reflected in GDP per capita, but countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, have an imbalance in this metric, using more energy than necessary to achieve its GDP.
As in other parts of the world energy will be cheaper, people will use it more and more, and the first victim will be the planet. Despite the fact that the energy is renewable, it does not mean that the environment will remain in order; can be consequences that we cannot even imagine yourself as the one who invented plastic, never imagined that poison marine life.
As energy becomes cheaper and eventually moves to zero value, we have to use ingenuity to use it wisely. Government regulation can play a role, as well as market forces, despite the absence of economic incentives. As with any new technological development, we can have phase adjustments when we go too far, catch yourself by the tail and peel back ago.
Free, clean energy will undoubtedly bring many benefits. But we can’t afford to forget that for free, someone pays — and it’s not always immediately obvious.