With information technology there was talk about media convergence, namely that nearly anything that had to do with transmitting or sharing information could be done digitally. The old TV broadcast networks and copper-wire telcos are working with analogue signals and many of these networks have been progressively digitised. Instead of real time signals being sent directly to the end user’s TV or phone, the information has been bundled as discrete IP packets and the signal is decoded and turned into the analogue sound, image or whatever at the end point of the communication. With decent baud rates the message is transmitted over the internet in less time than it takes to watch or listen to.
The next area for digital convergence might be in the energy field. You could think of information being like a vector. The bits in a byte of information may all be signals that can be either zero or one, but the value of a bit depends on where in the byte that particular bit is placed. Coordinate vectors might also consist of a few separate numbers to uniquely specify a particular location in a coordinate system. Shuffling the raw numbers in a coordinate vector is likely to result with a number of different locations (usually three) and shuffling the bits in a string of information will result with a string that has lost the ability to convey informationÂ – it would become random. The point is that the convergence so far has been with information and with regard to vector values.
Energy is not a vector, it is a scalar. As energy systems become digitised they are likely to converge with the other major scalar that dominates our lives, namely money and finance. Building renewable energy systems and networks with storage capacity will be akin to building banks and robust financial systems. That would probably not be apparent now and this idea may be laughed off. Once energy systems have become digitised and there is a suitable storage capacity throughout the system people will measure what they can do by the energy that would require. There may be a stable exchange rate between buying energy and currency and eventually stores of energy or a reliable supply of energy will seem like capital, the amounts of energy would be recorded like money is in a bank and then the energy units could be traded directly in the same way that currency is now. There would, however, be realistic limits to the energy capital that can be stored or produced. Rather than relying on perceived social value through markets, an energy currency would be physically verifiable and you wouldn’t have financial systems bubbles like we have had in the later 20C and early 21C with the associated boom and bust cycles that these unverifiable ‘sentimental’ financial and market systems go through. Energy is already a valuable commodity and access to energy is important for all of a nation’s economy. Energy and a verifiable supply of renewable energy may well in time have more social value than a lump of gold ever could.
A cap on carbon emissions is essential if we are to have sustainable energy systems that we can live with. If indeed energy and currency converge then the world would have to be firm to insist that the energy be produced sustainably and without damaging the environment. Any economy that will want to be part of this converged energy/currency economy would have to be part of a verifiable carbon trading scheme with caps on CO2 emissions. Without this the atmosphere’s CO2 levels will spiral out of control. I think that technology will move towards storing energy and with renewable sources of energy and that the convergence of energy and currency will only be a matter of time. Obviously I think that a medium to long term way to stabilise the financial systems is to shift the emphasis of value towards renewable energy and energy storage systems. This is a way out of the financial turmoil.
This convergence would also add a whole new meaning to the term ‘dirty money’ and change the way that coal is perceived.