In 1964 Nikolai Kardashev, a Soviet astronomer, postulated a method of measuring a civilization’s level of technological advancement based on energy utilization. The resulting Kardashev scale describes these civilizations (summarized by me):
- Type 0– Civilization harnesses organically produced and derived sources (fossil fuels, food, wood, etc.) that exist on scales comparable to individuals and small cultures within the society.
- Type 1– Civilization evolves to world level energy produced and derived sources (nuclear, wind, solar, etc.) that exist on scales requiring mass efforts of an entire country and world to achieve. The energy sources have potential to simultaneously move effectively beyond the home planet (orbital space flight) and destroy the home planet (nuclear weapons).
- Type 2– Civilization evolves to solar-system level energy by harnessing the power of a star. Obviously has the potential to move beyond a solar system and destroy one at the same time.
- Type 3– Galaxy-scale by harnessing the energy of a super-massive black hole and then some.
Obviously we are in the middle of the Type 0-1 shift. Michio Kaku and others have estimated the probability of a civilization surviving this shift as abysmally low due to environmental, social, and other issues. Thankfully we do have examples of true Type 1 level technologies in society. The internet is a prime example of a truly world level technology requiring mass efforts by the entire society for success. In a prior blog post I discussed some of the key traits that promote a world level technology like the internet. Like I discussed, moving information bits is easy, mass and energy are much harder.
So the real question is, how will we evolve our energy tech to become a true Kardeshev Type 1 society?
Since hydrogen was the first element created in the big bang, and is 74% of the known atomic mass in the universe, hydrogen will be key to our transition and many Kardeshev-type civilizations. So what’s the HOW of a Hydrogen Organized World? Here’s a shot from the hip that merges elements from the internet and includes many excerpts from my current hydrogen economy talk:
- Allow users to generate their own hydrogen. Hydrogen is widely considered to be an energy currency. I’ve argued for years that problems arise in our fiscal system when our printing of money decouples from the energy we are utilizing. We need to hand over the reigns of our energy production to allow the users (from civilians to large corporations and nations) of our grids to generate the content and use to best suite their needs. Megawatt scale hydrogen electrolysis systems produce hydrogen and oxygen from water, are carbon-free, and are highly variable to accommodate fluctuation in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. BPA has already reached the curtailment limit of new renewables in it’s system and needs more ability to take power on and off the grid on demand. In some instances you will even be payed to take the energy. Batteries are a good start, but there isn’t enough of any material on the planet to give everyone their own electron storing battery.
- Allow users to store their own hydrogen. What’s the use of an energy currency if you can’t save it to spend it when you need it? We’re optimistic that efficient small-modular hydrogen liquefiers are possible. Hydrogen liquefaction is the best way to get away from material limitations associated with energy storage. Moreover, a recent techno-economic analysis by Argonne National Laboratory found that liquid hydrogen will be the backbone of the up and coming hydrogen economy.
- Allow users to use their hydrogen as they see fit. Need backup power or peak power shaving to reduce cost? Sure, site an electrolyzer stack with our hydrogen liquefier and you’re off and running. Want to fuel vehicles? Fine. Fertilizer production or chemical processing? Not a problem. Didn’t need the hydrogen you generated? Plenty of folks would love to buy your carbon-free energy. Did I mention that our storage and refueling stations are portable?
And suddenly everyone has an increased incentive to reduce their energy consumption, adapt their use to variations in grid production, and demand more renewables be installed. Paralleling the internet itself, the real business will be in helping people to generate their content and share it with others (Google anyone?). With enough people working together we may even save the world.