Richard Watson: energy storage is most promising solution


Richard Watson, author, futurist and the man credited with predicting the 2008 gobal financial crisis, believes that generating and storing energy in electric cars, buildings and even home appliances is the most promising solution to the world’s power problems.

A story published in the InDaily newspaper focus on Watson’s keynote address to an audience of more than 600 attendees at InDaily‘s South Australian Business Index yesterday.

According to the article, Watson says that electric vehicles could act as a battery for the world, and the catalyst for “a system where ordinary people are able to store power and sell it to each other”.

The world is suffering from an “energy storage problem”, which could be addressed through local energy production, where artificially intelligent vehicles and devices could trade electricity autonomously.

Says Watson: “The decentralisation of energy, and the development of smart energy grids, along with smart buildings, smart cities and intelligent appliances is the larger part of the solution.

“Energy anarchy could be a very small step away from energy democratisation and energy equality.”

He told attendees: “At the moment, the grid, our cities, our buildings and our appliances are not very intelligent – and neither are we”.

“Power generally comes from centralised sources and we plug in and switch off our devices willy-nilly, and then we complain about the size of our energy bill.”

“But imagine for a moment if everything that used power had a level of intelligence and autonomy.

Watson continued: “Imagine if devices, dwellings and local energy ecosystems could instantly switch energy supplier – and what if these devices and micro-grids could trade energy with each other, selling any excess energy they have stored, or deferring or time-shifting their use of power in return for small micro-payments.

Watson spoke about a level of intelligence whereby devices could turn on and off as necessary and determine for themselves the best time to be switched on or recharged.

“These devices might have a conversation with us about this, or, I think far more likely, they will talk amongst themselves, and they will collectively agree how to best use the power that’s available on a national, local or hyperlocal basis,” he said.

“Your washing machine, for example, might shift being on by 10 or 20 minutes, or even half a day – or it might decide to buy electricity from your neighbour’s electric car.

“I see a world where energy sources become more diverse, more local, more transparent and more democratic.”

While Watson does not believe that electric vehicles will gain market share any time soon, he does believe they could act as the world’s giant battery.

“I think they (electric cars) are a very long way from becoming a game-changer when it comes to fossil fuel dependence,” he said.

“There are about two million electric cars globally at present. The forecast is 100 million electric cars by 2035, which may or may not be self-driving. This pales into insignificance compared to the one billion cars we’ve already got that are not electric … the forecast is for two-billion cars by 2040 that are not electric.

“(However) if you have millions, perhaps billions of electric cars whizzing around globally, you effectively have one really big battery…and it’s a battery that’s highly mobile, locally owned and potentially the beginnings of a system where ordinary people are able to store power and sell it to each other.

“If you add in nudge prices (and) energy tariffs that vary by season … you can offer financial incentives for people not to use power at certain times…You could end up, theoretically, with an era of energy abundance rather than an era of energy scarcity, and that’s clearly a bit of a game-changer.”

Watson, however, cautioned: “Don’t think for a second that such a system will run primarily on renewables. In my view, fossil fuels will continue to dominate globally … out to at least 2030 – maybe 2035, possibly even 2040,” he said.

“(However) we would easily solve all our current and future energy problems if we act together and think boldly enough.


Watson says, however that we do not think boldly enough and that more creative thinking at a very “large, large level” is needed.

“We can’t predict, but we can’t create – but for that we need vision and we need political willpower.

“The power is, quite literally, in our hands.”


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