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  • Writer's pictureSol J

Life through the Fourth Transition

What might the world look like after the Fourth Transition is well underway?

Following on from our blog "The hierarchy of human needs", we extend the view forward to try and imagine how the world would change as abundant energy derived from an over unity energy supply chain becomes available.

"He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." - Harold Wilson

This blog comes with a curious mix of excitement and trepidation. It is easy to imagine a Utopian future, roads paved with the best of intentions but quite a bit harder to successfully implement one. History has taught us that most if not all attempts to create Utopian societies have ended up being anything but. In most cases, we find it was centralised planning at the heart of the problem, almost always enabled by wasteful high-consumption supply chains that reach peak power and then fail to support the society that has come to depend on them. So caveat emptor, I will try my best to set the stage for a new free world but you'll have to colour in the details for yourself.

Fast forward to the year 2025:

The increasing green restrictions placed by courts on the fossil fuel industry had made it all but unviable and due to lack of investor interest the oil market had largely collapsed. The remaining oil providers in Eurasia were now charging so much for transport fuel, driven by demand from mainland Europe, Australia and the US that most heavy industries had lost their profit margins.

Most renewable manufacturers had also gone out of business, unable to meet the market at prices consumers could afford due to the skyrocketing prices of minerals. China was still hanging in there with wind and solar manufacture to keep their domestic minerals industry alive, fuelled by coal-fired electricity and trying to wring the last scraps of value from their unprofitable nuclear program but the export market was now gone. The price of renewable energy was soaring to new heights as those providers who still had functioning infrastructure found that materials and maintenance services were almost unobtainable due to supply chain fragmentation, delays and rising delivery costs. Broken wind turbines rotted in the fields with no one left to take responsibility for their removal.

Governments had failed to deliver cost reductions through policy and new projects had to be abandoned as investors perceived the delays and cost blowouts as too risky. The flow-on effects of energy prices and supply chain costs to industry were driving a never ending cycle of inflation and business collapse internationally. With vacant property on the rise and cities losing their heartbeats, urban decay set in around the world.

Government controls and interventions were having less and less impact as most economies had fragmented and there was a general return to local economies and labour based production. Legal workarounds and outright disregard for untenable and unenforceable government regulation meant quality and safety had dropped to levels not seen since the early 20th Century.

Working from home had continued since the pandemic but delivery was now so unpredictable and expensive that people had turned to home manufacturing of simple household goods within their local communities, rather than online sales and many professional service sectors in consulting had become largely redundant. Internet infrastructure was unstable and new personal devices almost non-existent, following the downward trend in microchip and advanced device manufacture.

The increased demand for biofuels to keep the West's supply chains functioning had almost doubled the global cost of food oils every year from the peak of the pandemic through to 2025. Farmers in the poorest parts of Asia and India had switched to oilseed crops, displacing food crops and driving up the price of food in the region with an additional 30% of the population being unable to afford enough food to eat. Disease rates were in the rise, spot epidemics were now a regular occurrence and the almost 6-fold cost of aviation fuel meant that specialised medical technology was no longer available. The constantly changing political landscape was driving military preparedness with highly dependent nation states starting to take sides. Kinetic warfare seemed unlikely, raising concerns about complex hybrid strategic scenarios that would be difficult to counter.

Attempts to reestablish the nuclear industry in Europe had been met with scepticism. Due to the long lead times on projects, budgets were blowing out before planned projections had even been completed. Service providers for the specialised mining, refining and construction of these facilities found they could not maintain a suitable set of contractors who were able to provide the necessary financial guarantees at an acceptable risk level so far into the future. Constant company mergers in the provider space meant that contracts had to be scrapped and rewritten as quickly as they were being engaged. All new projects were eventually cancelled and the funds were diverted to the growing number of serious maintenance issues that were now plaguing existing operational reactors.

Many of these dated back to the Cold War and were experiencing additional safety issues related to environmental factors outside the facility itself, such as extreme weather impacts and ground disturbance. None were able to be decommissioned as most of Western Europe had become increasingly dependent on them. Renewable infrastructure was failing to deliver returns due to changes in weather patterns and they were falling into disrepair. Deforestation due to the combined effects of climate change and reduced soil quality, as well as emerging plant diseases put further stress on ecosystems and drove extreme weather events.

With no option but to bring old inefficient coal stations back online, large scale GreenBoxes were installed that were able to capture the waste heat from these stations and bring them up to a thermal efficiency exceeding modern stations. Built-in carbon capture capabilities allowed recycling of the exhaust gases into new intensive bioalgae farms that produced the required feed stocks for small scale local manufacture of materials for industrial purposes, such as plastics and precursors for essential medicines.

The carbon capture operated entirely off low-grade waste heat from the coal-fired exhaust which was recovered to power all the sub processes in the facility, driven by an nGeni solar concentrator. Both the thermal waste and the atmospheric CO2 emissions from the coal fired stations were reduced by 80% and the production rate of the bioalgae farm was able to be quadrupled in 40% of the space otherwise required.

Multiple algae strains provided for biofuels, animal feed and medicinal precursors as well as research blooms for heavy metals sequestration from polluted waste streams. This allowed for the stabilisation of domestic production and kept the wheels of agriculture moving just long enough to take the next critically important steps. The additional oxygen produced by these intensive farms began to stabilise air quality and respiratory health in the region and the resulting clearer skies further improved solar energy capture within two years of installation.

Biomass nutrients, along with the inbuilt water purification capabilities of the GreenBox, allowed for regeneration of long since defunct farmland around the coal-fired plants, with carefully selected livestock being introduced to close the fertiliser loop. nGeni GreenBoxes powered from biomass digester gas produced 300% more usable energy than the generators they replaced by concentrating atmospheric heat - this was used to accelerate the biodigesters to reduce the necessary physical size before recycling back to greenhouses to extend the growing season. The entire agricultural sector was being transformed by a series of replicable small-scale self sustaining projects that operated in a closed loop. The increased agricultural yields captured CO2 and environmental heat, stabilising local weather and reduced the incidence of crop damaging extreme weather events.

Factories were constructed to mass produce a suitable version of the GreenBox for retrofitting into vehicles that could run off unrefined bio-oils, saving nearly 30% in fuel refining costs alone. The high efficiency nGeni GreenBox motors, completely silent and running off carbon neutral fuel, could also be operated on hydrogen from existing facilities and the new breed of simple home-based nGeni thermal solar electrolytic cells. Maintenance costs for vehicles reduced by 40% and many people found it cheaper to retrofit older cars with the new engine configuration than to repair new cars, especially when replacement parts became difficult to source. This option was further driven by the lack of new vehicles on the market, due to restrictive green policy and unavailability of key components such as microchips.

Specialised hybrid solar/fossil fuel versions of the GreenBox were rapidly prototyped to improve the efficiency of the last remaining oil rigs so the transition off petroleum could be made without interruption to the world's shipping and aviation based supply chains. Using solar power to recycle the lost process heat from petrochemical refineries we were able to produce nearly 5 times the usable energy from the same oil fields, reducing total global oil consumption by nearly 8% per year and extending the available time to complete the transition to full solar by over 20 years. Many refineries would be later repurposed into hybrid solar/biomass facilities for producing advanced aviation biofuels.

The more complex industrial chemicals required by industry were still able to be manufactured using existing technology, but the cooling capabilities of the GreenBox were able to increase the yield of temperature gradient driven processes using less than 30% of the original energy required. Plans were drawn up and the construction of new small-scale modular plants commenced to make fully biomass-derived, specialised chemicals within 5 years. The new chemical processes, designed specifically to take advantage of thermal gradient technology triggered a whole new professional industry in advanced, low-cost, carbon sequestering materials that had previously been impossible due to the energy costs and ecological concerns.

Minerals for the new specialised industries could now be mined much more cheaply due to the vastly increased efficiency of solar assisted Greenboxes, running on reformed synthetic fuels. As mining went deeper and deeper, the increasing available geothermal heat provided additional booster energy to those mining operations, offsetting the costs of working at depth, so open cut mining was now a thing of the past for most materials. Land for agriculture and housing was considered to be more important for sustainability and stabilising the ecosphere and many old mine sites were repurposed for hi-tech energy projects.

Mining and energy were now considered to be symbiotic rather than competing interests and as in the days of oil, mining companies came to think of themselves as energy companies. Resource projects attracted investment more readily for the trailing ecological benefits and energy that continued to be available from solar assisted geothermal power long after the site lost resource viability. Mine sites that were previously uneconomical due to the costs of installing and supporting community infrastructure in harsh conditions now provided sufficient net energy to sustain communities locally without external fuel supplies.

"Integrative Ecology" became a new field of environmental science, where energy accounting methods were employed to terraform unusable land in resource zones to create self-supporting communities with local industry that persisted after the mine had ceased operation. Groundwater pumped from the underground workings provided irrigation water to transform arid regions with stable permaculture and the increased evaporation provided cooler climatic conditions for human habitation.

The lowered costs of energy now meant that recycling of difficult materials such as compounded polymers and rare earth magnets was feasible, so renewable infrastructure projects nearing the end of their maintenance cycles were gradually phased out and the exotic materials reclaimed. This alleviated over 70% of the world's pre-2025 demand for these minerals. The increase in availability took market pressure off the mining industry and reduced demand on the oil supply chain and the increased environmental credits from mine rejuvenation and advanced recycling allowed them to develop new economic models for sustainable extraction that simultaneously delivered ecological outcomes.

The transition at the domestic level took longer and commenced with lower income earners in colder climates for whom heating bills comprised a major component of their income. Due to the high efficiency heat pump capacity of nGeni, household power consumption and carbon emissions were able to be cut by 50% almost immediately just by installing a low-cost water heater, refrigerator and space heating fan with a solar equipped GreenBox. The installation cost was about the same as a solar PV setup of similar capacity, but the pay back period was 4 years, instead of 20 years.

Now that power was being produced right in the home setting and thermal energy could be stored in a low-cost heatsink for up to 2 weeks, the need to balance power across large geographic regions was no longer necessary and local peer-to-peer trading was possible to stabilise individual household peak demands. Once installed, the additional energy credits earned allowed for the purchase of other nGeni enabled thermal appliances at a fraction of the cost of regular electric appliances, resulting in continuous improvement of household efficiency and stabilisation of power in regional areas.

As grids became decentralised, transmission infrastructure was dismantled and the materials reclaimed to manufacture GreenBox technology in local communities without needing specialised factories or tooling. Calculations showed that it was more energy efficient to construct local solar capture energy at the point of use, rather than import energy as electricity from elsewhere, with all the incumbent losses, infrastructure maintenance and thermal emissions.

The additional land that was being made available due to the conversion of arid zones into temperate zones reduced pressure on high density housing that was now considered to be less desirable due to the general trend away from city living. The decentralisation of energy infrastructure had made cities comparatively less profitable places to live and work and the emphasis turned to administrative and cultural activities with more parks and less high rise buildings. This was in keeping with a general trend worldwide towards simpler, lower consumption living.

Nonetheless, cities continued to have high energy demands, a need that was much more easily met by nGeni technology. By moving heat from point to point within the urban environment, the need for energy to drive space cooling to cope with concentrated human activity was reduced. This actually made urban locales even more energy efficient than the rural areas and made them more self sustaining in terms of energy.

As the structural foundations of the West began to recover, community driven philanthropic projects organically formed to provide nGeni technology to underdeveloped nations with the aim of stabilising those regions most under threat of devolving into conflict zones. These projects allowed for the education and dignity of underprivileged peoples yet they were small-scale enough to not produce the inequities that previously had so often led to local armed conflict in those regions. Through education and local trade, local communities formed, transport routes were eventually restored and the nations of Africa, Latin America and South Asia re-established their international trade ties.

It was the beginning of an exciting new era of human prosperity, with an endless, scaleable source of self-sustaining energy that had been forgotten for centuries - the Sun.

Once again, humankind looked to the skies in search of new adventure...

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