Scenario Plans (& Delphi Research)

I looked into the future, and the time to act is now.

Tag: disruptive technology

Salt and Battery, When does Storage make Fossil Fuel Obsolete

Last week the world’s biggest Electric Vehicle (EV) battery company made a big opening splash on its IPO. CATL is a Chinese company that IPOed with a massive 44% pop on open. The company offered up only 10% of the shares in the IPO, valuing the company at more than $12B. China has limits on how much a company can IPO at (price based on PE ratio) and a 44% limit on the amount an IPO can rise in first day of trading. Expect this company to jump continually for some time. CATL is now the largest EV battery company in the world, primarily with lithium-ion for autos.

Of course, you can just use power as needed, when needed. With the rapid increase in efficiencies of wind (where the wind blows) and solar (where the sun shines) this is becoming ever-more critical. Once the infrastructure of transmission lines are in place, the renewable power plants are far more cost effective than any other options. Both wind and solar are now less than $.02 per KW, and the combined wind-solar is coming in at less than $.03. Such new power can come onboard in months, not years or decades required for other types of power.

Still, the problem is smoothing out the power for night time when the wind is not blowing. Thus the reliance on storage if we are to move to total renewables. If – well, when – the combined renewable energy and storage costs are lower than coal, oil and natgas, there will be no need for fossil fuels, except maybe for those places where the sun doesn’t shine (much) and the wind doesn’t blow (much).

There are many different options for storage of energy.

Fixed storage can be in the form of solar that moves water (back upstream to a dam that is above the existing hydro power system). It can use mirrors to focus heat for molten salt, for example.

The old lead battery technology has been tried and proved for a century and still is alive and well in the golf-carts.

Many players are after the battery storage market. GE is fighting hard against Tesla (powerwall battery built in their GigaFactories for fixed and battery packs for their cars) and Siemens. Storage options that are as good, or better, then lithium are coming fast to market for different applications. See a great view of new battery technologies in Pocket Lint. Batteries technologies that contain more carbon, nickel or cobalt seem very intriguing. Hydrogen options using fuel cell has been right at the edge of mass breakthrough into the market for decades.

When will certain storage options become a game-changer for existing “built economy” such as fossil fuels?

At some point, the combined renewable and storage will be sufficiently powerful and affordable to render the old fossil fuel options obsolete. McKinsey report discusses this massive drop in price and trend in their battery report. In 2010 battery storage cost about $1,000 per kilowatt hour of storage; their June 2017 report shows it at $230 per kwh in 2016 and dropping fast. It should be well below $200 per kwh now. (Batteries for the Telsa Model 3 are supposed to be at about $190 per kWh based on mass manufacturing; estimates based on SEC filings are for $157 kWh by 2020.)

So, what is the break-even point where storage becomes the game changer, and renewables with battery deflect the entire energy industry onto another course? Apparently, $125 per kWh is the disruptive price point. A scientist name Cadenza has developed battery technology at this price point using super cell and is now working on an extended version that includes the peripherals with the battery at, or below, the magical $125 kWh. She must demonstrate both cheaper and safer, so the housing is critical to avoid fires and short-circuits. “In March of this year, Cadenza published its report (pdf) saying that its super-cell technology can indeed hit that point.”

The technology is already here, yet new improvements are leap-frogging each competing option. How long before fossil fuels are an obsolete option? For just plain generation, fossils are dead and dying. Combined is where the war is won, however.

We argue that you really want to be careful with your oil and gas investments because you can find yourselves, like the oil patch (countries and companies and refiners) with stranded assets.

Moore’s law is at work in the battery complex. How long before combined renewables with storage supplants fossil fuels? Five years? Ten? Twenty?

Qubit

The Future of Computing Is Taking on a Life of Its Own

Previously, we talked about the Tic-Toc of computing at Intel, and how Gordan’s law (Moore’s law) of computing – 18 months to double speed (and halve price) – is starting to hit a brick wall (Outa Time, the tic-toc of Intel and modern computing). Breaking through 14 nanometer barrier is a physical limitation inherent in silicon chips that will be hard to surpass. Ed Jordan’s dissertation addressed this limit and his Delphi study showed what the next technology might likely be, and how soon it might be viable. His study found that several technologies were looming on the horizon (likely less than 50 years)… and that organic (i.e. proteins) was the most promising, and should certainly happen sometime in the next 30 years.

Apparently quantum computing technology is here and now– kinda – especially at Google. See Nicas (2017) WSJ article about Quantum computing in the Future of Computing. As the article states about the expert Nevens, he’s pretty certain that no one understands quantum physics. At the atomic level, a qubit can be both on and off, at the same time. The conversation goes into parallel universes and such… Both here and there, simultaneously. The Quantum computer is run in zero gravity, at absolute zero temperature (give or take a fraction of a degree). Storage density using qubits is unimaginable. The computer works completely differently, however, based on elimination of the non-feasible to arrive at good answers, but not necessarily the best answer. Heuristics, kinda. The error rate is humongous, apparently, requiring maybe 100 qubits in error correction associated with a single working qubit.

Ed Jordan was reminiscing about quantum computing yesterday… “Basically, all computing in all its permutations need to be rethunk. Quantum computing is sort of the Holy Grail. One could argue it is sort of like control fusion: always just 10 years away. Ten years ago, it was 10 years away. Ten years from now it may still be ten years away. There is a truck load of money being thrown at it. But there isn’t anything mature enough yet to do anything that looks like real computing. The problem is how do you read out the results? Like Schrödinger’s cat, that qubit could be alive or dead, and by looking at it you cause different results to happen – as opposed to something that exists independent of your observation.”

Quantum computing is now moving past the technically impossible into the proved and functional, and maybe soon to be viable. The players in this market are Google (Alphabet), IBM and apparently the NSA (if whistle blower Snowden is to be believed.)

Intel may not be able to capitalize on the next generation of computing.  Some computations, such as breaking encryption, can probably be done in a couple seconds on a quantum computer, even though it might take multiple current silicone computers a lifetime. There are several potential uses of the quantum computer that make businesses and security targets very nervous.

Jordan and Hall (2016) talk about using Delphi to anticipate deflection points that are possible on the horizon, including those scenarios that would be possible via quantum computing, or bio-computing for that matter. The use of experts or informed people could make the search for such deflection points more evident, and the ability to develop contingency plans more effective.

One of the most interesting things in the Nicas article is a look at the breakthroughs in computing technology, and comparing them to Jordan’s 2010 dissertation. He found that two or three types of technology should likely be feasible within 25 to 40 years and viable in application within about 30 to 50 years. In his case that would be as early as about 2040. Note that the experts discussed by Nicas were pegged to have full application of a quantum computer by about 2026; that is when digital security will take on a whole new level of risk. It also makes you wonder how block-chain (bitcoin) will fare in the new age of supersonic computing.

This seems like a great time to start working of security safeguards that are not anything like the current technology? Can you imagine the return of no-tech or lo-tech? Kinda reminds you of the revival of the old “brick” phones for analog service (in the middle of the everglades).

References

Debnath, S., Linke, N. M., Figgatt, C., Landsman, K. A., Wright, K., & Monroe, C. (2016). Demonstration of a small programmable quantum computer with atomic qubits. Nature, 536(7614), 63–66. doi:10.1038/nature18648

Jordan, Edgar A. (2010). The semiconductor industry and emerging technologies: A study using a modified Delphi Method. (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from ProQuest dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3442759)

Jordan, E. A., & Hall, E. B. (2016). Group decision making and Integrated Product Teams: An alternative approach using Delphi.  In C. A. Lentz (Ed.), The refractive thinker: Vol. 10. Effective business strategies for the defense sector. (pp. 1-20) Las Vegas, NV: The Refractive Thinker® Press. ISBN #: 978-0-9840054-5-1. Retrieved from: http://refractivethinker.com/chapters/rt-vol-x-ch-1-defense-sector-procurement-planning-a-delphi-augmented-approach-to-group-decision-making/

Nicas, Jack (2017, November/December). Welcome to the quantum age. The future of Computing in Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-googles-quantum-computer-could-change-the-world-1508158847

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