Grid Scale Energy Storage

So far in Autognosis: Cities we’ve discussed how growth curves of cities could be brought into alignment with other life forms, how a city could be fitted with a smart grid which behaves functionally like a nervous system, and now I would like to talk about Energy.

Any given city power grid has a complicated relationship with the resource production and consumption around which it is based.  This means that, given current technology, city power grids have no large scale storage capacity – energy usage must be roughly equal to energy production, and production equal to usage.  If the demand goes UP during peak hours (say, on a particularly balmy afternoon when all the air conditioners fire up at the same time) then the production plants must quickly increase production to match.  During non peak hours when demand decreases the production must taper off. 

Often a power grid must expel (waste) unused energy, or, as in the case of some Southern California grids, the energy production can’t keep up with demand and energy costs skyrocket.  This kind of waste can put strain on urban environments – especially those seeking to use renewable energy sources which have a hard time keeping up with fossil fuel for cost per kilowatt hour anyway.  Production rates are a problem, power storage is a problem, coordination between production and consumption is a problem, the vast increase in demand the modern device driven technology is a problem, etc. etc.

Dr. Donald Sadoway gives an amazing summary of the reality of modern power grids <here>.  Dr. Dadoway has also lead an internationally gleaned group of graduate students to develop a ‘grid level’ power storage technology which is not only based on cheap and abundant elements – perfect for developing nations – but has a life-cycle which allows for nearly 100% energy drainage and recharge, and will retain that ability for 100 years while sustaining 98% of its original capacity!  That’s a game changer. 

Though Sadoway’s energy storage strategy is less about ‘smart’ tech, I felt it was absolutely applicable to this series because energy itself is the first tier of any digital technology, and also provides cheap, reliable, city-level energy storage solutions.  If, according to Geoffrey West, sustainable resource consumption is the key to rendering a sigmoidal growth curve (see installment 1) then maybe the simple solutions are actually the ‘smartest’ ones of all.


Energy Development impediments

– The only way to innovate is to match current price and capacity

– It will take $17 Trillion to electrify the world

Building Grid Level Storage with Earth-abundant materials

– Mitigate the rise and fall of energy demand

Stabilize renewables

– Build Batteries from abundant minerals to enable developing countries to build power grids.

– Modular storage to facilitate energy transport.

Could Ai be used to manage cities through it’s growth and maturity?  Could Ai forestall or stop the process of collapse?  More broadly, could this be a primary use of Ai period?  In some sense, it almost seems redundant for the process of evolution to produce a being like Humans, which can build something as elegant as Ai only to reproduce a version of itself which does all the same stuff – only faster.  Does it not seem more likely that whatever consciousness with which we imbue Ai will naturally migrate toward citywide systems?  Does it not imply that these systems may have an inevitable ‘sweet spot’ in terms of scale?  In terms of ‘pace’?

Already, this seems to suggest that the life form of the (near?!?) future will be cities – that is city-sized organisms.  This would mean that the ‘human’ in transhumanism would account for a modular subcomponent of much larger and smarter organisms.  Our cities would carry human groups around like we carry our cells.  These groups would clearly hold specializations, like law enforcement/immune system, industrial work/k-cells, also corresponding to smooth muscle cells, cells of connective tissue, nerve cells, and so on. 

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