Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Cheapening: Power Consumption

Will we get off fossil fuels? Not quickly, but we may be able to avoid the worst of peak oil but continuing to improve the energy efficiency of all of our tech... and a big, big portion of our electricity goes to computers...

FTA: "Roughly speaking, we predict there could be a 1,000-time reduction in power consumption with electronic computers built in this new way," said Wolkow, a physicist at the University of Alberta.

But wait, there's more...

FTA: "And they could be something like 1,000 times smaller in size. So it's reaching the very limit as far as anyone could imagine of how small things could get."

What kind of sorcery is this?!?

FTA: 'Scientists at Edmonton's National Institute for Nanotechnology have made a significant breakthrough that could help pave the way for new generations of smaller, more energy-efficient computers.

The team, led by Robert Wolkow, has invented the world's smallest quantum dots, atom-sized devices capable of controlling electrons, using a fraction of the power of current computer technology.'

A computer one one thousandth the present size of our computers is wonderful but its the reduction in power consumption that thrills me. Think of how many computers there are in offices and homes all over the world. Obviously they wouldn't be changed over night, but with each new computer sold (once the tech because ubiquitous)that massive power need would be chipped away. Meanwhile, those of us who dream of living off the grid won't have to make such gut wrenching sacrifices, or shell out nearly as much, to go solar.

What's starting to form, what I'm starting to see emerge as the picture of our future is self sufficient energy creation. A solar panel on every roof, LED's in every light socket, a small, super energy efficient computer... if our power needs are shrinking and our capacity to generate power (through solar and wind)are increasing we can start to see a point when large scale power production becomes a thing of the past...

...of course this means job loses. Coal mining, drilling for natural gas, power stations, managing the grid, laying the cable... all of these things will go the way of the 8-track and, soon, the record store.

Its going to be a weird and, potentially, rocky transition. As our power needs shrink you can expect the price of kilowatt hours to spike, this will of course accelerate the change. This in turn could prompt power companies to drop their prices but their method of power creation may not be efficient enough to accommodate the new lower prices- they will fail. Their only option is to buy up patents on personal power generation tech and I think they're already too late.

If lights account for roughly 20% of total power usage (at least in the UK), how much would a thousand fold reduction in the power needs of computers effect our total energy demands? And what other technologies will benefit from this tech breakthrough?

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