Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Futurists really never learn, do they?

As I desperately attempt to catch up on LJ (I seem to be perpetually four days behind at the moment), I came across mindways's reference to this story. Most of which is interesting and reasonable, but I was quite struck by this paragraph:
If all goes well with the experimental reactor, officials hope to set up a demonstration power plant in Cadarache around 2040. Officials project that as much as 20 per cent of the world's energy could come from fusion by the century's end, said Raymond L. Orbach, the U.S. Department of Energy's office of science director.
"Century's end"? Oh, come on, guys -- that's 95 years out! Predicting subtle changes a century off never works. I am reminded of those articles from the 1940s about computers, and how by the year 2000 there would be literally dozens of these things, serving all the world's computing needs.

Honestly, 20 percent sounds completely silly to me as an estimate for century's end. I would instead project two likelier scenarios:
  • The technology works, and proves to be economically viable. In this case, it accounts for something more like 75% of the world's energy needs. If they have a demo reactor really working by 2040, then 60 years is plenty of time for it to supplant traditional fuel sources, most of which are in decline due to overexploitation.

  • The technology doesn't work, or doesn't make economic sense. In which case it accounts for essentially 0% of world energy. (And in 2100, everyone is still saying that fusion power is just a few decades off.)

It's far from certain, of course, but this looks like a disruptive technology to me. If it ever really works, it's going to change the landscape rapidly and dramatically, displacing existing tech over the course of just a few decades...

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