So the Skunk Works has announced a workable fusion-powered generator by 2017, with a mass industrial rollout by 2027, each unit small enough to sit on a truck and powerful enough to provide electricity for a city of 50-100 thousand people.
The Skunk Works, being a highly secret division of Lockheed responsible for technological breakthroughs such as the U-2, SR-71, and F-117 Nighthawk, is not exactly being open about their design, which has led to a certain amount of paranoia, including speculation that the Skunk Works (which receives funding from the Air Force) has ripped off Robert Bussard’s Polywell fusion prototype (which was funded by the Navy). (In fact, Bussard lost his Navy funding six or seven years ago, and has been trying to put together a funding package ever since.)
But anyway, that will all be the subject for nine-figure lawsuits, assuming this all pans out.
It is implied that the Skunk Works’ design will have helium as a byproduct, which further implies that they’ve managed a boron-proton reaction, which requires such extreme temperatures that it’s been considered, well, very very challenging.
Anyway, assuming that the Skunk Works prototype doesn’t evaporate into the same alternate universe as Pons and Fleischmann’s cold fusion announcement, what does this mean for the world?
Primary effects will include a crash in the fossil-fuel industry. All those nasty, dangerous coal plants and coal mines can for the most part closed up. Oil & gas will take a big hit, though petroleum (and for that matter coal) will still be useful in producing plastics, fertilizers, solvents, and pharmaceuticals. And fueling automobiles and trucks.
Which means that most of the 174,000 people employed in the U.S. coal industry will be out of work, and millions more worldwide. The 2.2 million oil workers in the U.S., and the many more throughout the world, will take a big hit. So . . . big unemployment. The blue-collar sector will see a lot of work floating away.
On the other hand, many of these jobs are crap jobs anyway. 40% of the oil jobs are minimum-wage in the U.S., and a lot of coal mining and transport jobs aren’t any better, particularly in the Third World.
And on the third hand, with energy inexpensive and abundant, those unemployment checks will stretch out a lot more, and those unemployed workers will more easily be able to fill their trailers with cheap consumer crap.
Oil-producing states will start to lose a lot of political and economic clout. Countries like Bahrain and Saudi had better hope that their plans for what to do when the oil runs out are viable. They can’t all be Disneyland.
Green technology will go into screaming overdrive. A lot less carbon being put into the air. Green cities. Huge irrigation and desalinization projects. And, because factories will be churning out more and more cheap pollution-causing consumer crap, a lot more effort being put into cleaning up those messes.
A lot less dependence on big power distribution networks. There will be a limit concerning how much power companies will be able to charge for their electricity. Charge too much, and the locals will be able to club together to buy a Skunkpower unit and start their own power company.
We’re going to see a lot of really fast warships and submarines, and ships generally. Warships with rail guns, and rail guns that can hurl warheads hundreds and thousands of miles. Incredibly powerful lasers, some mounted on large aircraft.
(And really powerful locomotives, probably without the rail guns and lasers.)
Robots robots robots. (Which will put more people out of work, of course.)
The Third (and Second) World will be able to leap to First World status in a hurry, assuming that their societies don’t explode from the stresses of modernization and the large populations of young men with little hope of employment and easy access to firearms.
Getting from one planet to the next becomes a lot easier— Mars would be mere weeks away— but I’m guessing there’s still a high energy cost for lifting the Skunkship into orbit.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
Assuming of course that this happens at all, because I’m just paranoid enough to think that the extractive industries are going to make sure that all funding for this project gets pulled. (You’re not that paranoid, though, are you?)
I’m distracted with a trip I’m taking to Long Island tomorrow to visit my in-laws, so I haven’t had time to think of tertiary impacts on, say, the shoe industry. What have I missed?