Potential Negative Economic Impacts of Successful Polywell

Point out news stories, on the net or in mainstream media, related to polywell fusion.

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IntLibber
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Potential Negative Economic Impacts of Successful Polywell

Post by IntLibber »

I'm a fan of Vernor Vinge's science fiction. One of his short stories, Run Bookworm Run!, takes place in a future where cheap energy has been developed, all old energy tech is obsolete, but its going to be several years to get industry converted to the new technology. The result is an economic Depression as the stock values of businesses formerly dependent on expensive energy collapse, people lose fortunes, pension funds implode, and most manufacturers have stopped production waiting for the new energy tech, as much as people have stopped buying old tech.

Now, taking this as a model, it would be helpful to plan for what sort of economic dislocations will occur if EMC2 and the Navy announce successful experiments. Not just to protect our assets, but to actually plan investments to take advantage of these dislocations (such as shorting coal stocks).

Damon Hill
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Post by Damon Hill »

Depends on how fast polywell-based fusion can be moved into the power generation market; I'd assume it would displace older coal-based technology first but there might be a couple of decades before the polywell technology is >fully< developed into a reliable service.

Since fusion isn't obviously destined to be a compact power source like the internal combustion engine or gas turbine or (maybe) fuel cell, I don't see it displacing that many technologies for decades to come. Electric cars do promise to become practical in the next decade or so, meaning electric power demand will go up and fossil fuel vehicles level off and maybe gradually decline.

Some disruptions, yeah; the smart players will move into it as soon as it's showing solid signs of progress and development.

Coal might get a reprieve if there's cheap electricity/thermal to power a new fuel conversion industry; crude oil might be more heavily impacted if that happens.

Skipjack
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Post by Skipjack »

Question (and I honestly do not know):
Has there ever been an economic decline that was caused by new, disruptive technology?
I cant think of one, but I am not an expert for economics. Maybe there is one that I am missing.
My guess is rather that we will see an economic high with a maybe a bubble crash like the "dot com" crash that we had (which really was not THAT catastrophic either in terms of long term global effects) following a decade or so later. I could imagine lots of start ups to be forming that will try new variations of polywell and other fusion concepts. Many will never make it, but the idiots that bankers are will be investing anyway.

IntLibber
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Post by IntLibber »

Skipjack wrote:Question (and I honestly do not know):
Has there ever been an economic decline that was caused by new, disruptive technology?
I cant think of one, but I am not an expert for economics. Maybe there is one that I am missing.
My guess is rather that we will see an economic high with a maybe a bubble crash like the "dot com" crash that we had (which really was not THAT catastrophic either in terms of long term global effects) following a decade or so later. I could imagine lots of start ups to be forming that will try new variations of polywell and other fusion concepts. Many will never make it, but the idiots that bankers are will be investing anyway.
Well its not as drastic, but the fuel efficiency gains made by the US in the 1980s caused severe economic downturns in most oil exporting countries.

I think it is safe to say that in this case, we'd see the same thing or worse.

Desktop publishing caused the printing industry to be seriously messed up.

Also, when the cotton industry overcame a lot of its structural inefficiencies and developed domestic mill capacity in the southern US comparable to northern and british mills, northern woolen industry collapsed. You can see empty mill buildings (or ones recently converted to offices or shopping) in towns and cities all over the northeastern US. Former sheep farms all over new england turned back to wilderness. New Hampshire was once 90% clear cut and farmed or otherwise developed. Today its only 14%. There are stone walls going forever through the woods of northern new england where there were once farms that are now forests.

LCD technology has decimated the CRT television and monitor industry.

The printing press caused massive unemployment among scribes.

BenTC
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Re: Potential Negative Economic Impacts of Successful Polywe

Post by BenTC »

IntLibber wrote:cheap energy has been developed, all old energy tech is obsolete, but its going to be several years to get industry converted to the new technology.
What was the form of the old and new technology in the book?
If electricity gets cheaper, it won't be as dramatic as factories changing the entire way they work.

There will be geographical displacements. High energy industries currently located near cheap energy will now locate closer to their raw materials eg aluminium production.

Transport will be affected, depending on the size of the Polywell package. If it can fit in a rail locamotive but not a truck then truck transport may fall off. If it can fit on a plane then containerised shipping moves to air.

Water markets - is there such a thing?
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

JohnP
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Post by JohnP »

Since distribution counts for about half (?) of the cost of electricity, Polywell will make an economic difference to the first world, but it won't be gigantic. The average Joe will still turn his TV on, etc the way he used to. The sun will set on King Coal, and miners will have to turn to something else for a living. Carbon credits may accelerate adoption of fusion power. People will rejoice at not having to worry about CO2 emissions and all the foulness that comes out of a smokestack.

Developing nations I think will see a bigger difference. If the capital cost of electric power decreases, that will open doors for them. I'm dubious about portable polywells powering trucks, etc. Even a megawatt P-BJ's going to kick out kilowatts of gamma rays, no? How are you going to deal with that?

TallDave
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Re: Potential Negative Economic Impacts of Successful Polywe

Post by TallDave »

IntLibber wrote:I'm a fan of Vernor Vinge's science fiction. One of his short stories, Run Bookworm Run!, takes place in a future where cheap energy has been developed, all old energy tech is obsolete, but its going to be several years to get industry converted to the new technology. The result is an economic Depression as the stock values of businesses formerly dependent on expensive energy collapse, people lose fortunes, pension funds implode, and most manufacturers have stopped production waiting for the new energy tech, as much as people have stopped buying old tech.

Now, taking this as a model, it would be helpful to plan for what sort of economic dislocations will occur if EMC2 and the Navy announce successful experiments. Not just to protect our assets, but to actually plan investments to take advantage of these dislocations (such as shorting coal stocks).
Actually, this kind of creative destruction happens all the time and is almost always a net benefit to the economy. Look at price-per-bit-per-mile over the 1990s.

In 1993, a guy on my dormitory floor got kicked out of the school because he called his girlfriend in AZ every day for a couple hours a day -- at the end of the term, he had a bill for thousands of dollars he couldn't pay.

In 2000, I took a job at a small software company. A guy I worked with talked to his family in Brazil every day for 4-5 hours over Skype, paying only Internet access charges.

The destruction of the old rate scheme gave birth to the Internet we know today. And if there's anything more useful than bits, it's energy. If PW comes in at something around hydropower, it will fuel a boom that may last decades.

If you think PW will pan out, you would probably want to short coal/uranium exploration and mining. The utilities themselves are creatures of state so they won't die, and the companies that build energy plants would probably shift to building PW plants. Oil is mostly used in mobile applications, so it might not be as affected.
n*kBolt*Te = B**2/(2*mu0) and B^.25 loss scaling? Or not so much? Hopefully we'll know soon...

D Tibbets
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Post by D Tibbets »

If the Polywell works I suspect it will be a gradual replacement in established markets. As mentioned it might contribute significantly faster in developing markets and dedicated uses- like aluminum production. Bussard pointed out that the replacement periond will be ~ 50 years, just like with wood to coal, and coal to oil.

I suspect power production with Polywells would start with peak power production systems that currently use natural gas or oil. Coal would probably be more gradual as the coal plants are bigger with greater capital tied up and cheaper fuel. Certainly planning for expansion of coal mining would take a hit. Hopefully natural gass would become more stabably cheaper. Transport would be the slowest to convert, unless shortages force conversion.

Dan Tibbets
To error is human... and I'm very human.

JohnFul
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Post by JohnFul »

When you think about it, in a terrestrial economy electricity and possibly heat would become less expensive. This could cause shifts in consumer buying decisions, and that is the basis of your question.

When gasoline was "cheap", consumers chose vehicles without much regard to fuel economy. SUVs became all the rage. When the price of gasoline spiked, consumer demand shifted; car dealers had to steeply discount to move existing SUV inventory. Entire production lines shut down. We all know the story there.

In the case of expensive electricity becoming inexpensive, there's no sudden driver for a change in consumer buying decisions. Perhaps a consumer would set the thermostat lower in the summer, without worry as to the impact on the electric bill. Perhaps less efficient appliances, or incadecent bulbs instead of compact flouresent. I don't see the driver to abandon a product when the impact is that the product becomes less expensive to operate. It's the opposite of what happened to SUVs when gasoline spiked.

Mass adoption of electric cars? Not hardly. The missing ingredient is a major breakthrough in electric storage technology. Large scale desalination? Possibly, butthen again it makes commodities like water and arable land less expensive. Less expensive means gradual shift to decadence. More expensive is what causes a sudden radical shift in consumer choice.

J

kurt9
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Post by kurt9 »

I don't think the successful development of polywell fusion will have that much impact on industry and the stock market. Fusion power will be used to generate electricity. Hydro-carbon fuels will still be needed for transportation. It is true that polywell fusion could be used to make synthetic hydrocarbons, but it is not clear if these would be cost competitive with natural petroleum. It will certainly render moot any "peak oil" scenario, but I think natural hydrocarbon fuels will continue to be used for a long time to come. The economic effect of successful fusion would be limited to the utilities.

Coal would go away, as would some natural gas. However, natural gas is cheap and they have recently discovered much greater reserves in North America itself. I think natural gas would continue to be used where ever legacy infrastructure exists. Homes that use natural gas for heating and cooking would continue to use natural gas. All new homes, however, would be all electric.

The hydroelectric dams, like the ones on the Columbia and Colorado rivers would continue to be used. They already exist and the maintenance costs are low.

The switch over to fusion produced synthetic hydrocarbon fuels would proceed slowly as the existing natural reserves were exhausted.

In short, I do not expect a major recession resulting from the successful development of polywell fusion.

The successful development of Mach-Lorentz thrusters would have a far more profound effect on the petroleum and related industries than fusion power. Cars and planes powered by MLT's would use far less hydrocarbon fuels (like 10% or so) than current ones.

kunkmiester
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Post by kunkmiester »

With some intelligence, the major issue with this--drop in coal demand--can be dealt with easily. Any time frame we're looking at gives decades for completely shutting down coal plants, and even then there will still be a certain amount of demand.

You can basically put coal miners into two groups--those who can learn a new job, and those that can't. the idea would be to take the younger guys, and retrain them for power plant operation, providing a trained, ready pool of labor as polywell reactors come online. As coal demand drops, more younger ones are trained if possible, or the older miners are retired. One thing would be for the unions to make sure the pension funds are full enough. They'd also provide the student loans for those retraining. Some could go to work in mining other things, but I'm not sure how well that would work.

This does of course require some intelligence on the union's part, which does seem to be lacking to a great extent in many areas. Thus while it could be possible to accelerate and improve the labor pool's absorption of these workers, it probably won't happen.
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chrismb
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Post by chrismb »

The only thing that destroys markets in such a wholesale fashion is a ridiculous, badly thought out Government mandate. For example, imagine that the Government decided to tax all cars over 1500kg £5,000 per year surcharge. Clearly the price of such cars would crash. Something similar has happened recently here in UK.

The reason this doesn't happen in a 'real' market is because providing there is no actual *exclusion* to fossil fuel combustion then it will simply come down in price to compete, once the new tech has come in.

There is also the effect of 'new entrants' and 'mature products'. So you want to get a blu-ray player - did you buy one as soon as it was available at $1,000s, or did you wait [are you waiting?] 'til it was less than half a week's pay cheque, or are you still waiting for it to enter the 'bargain bucket' end of the store?

Real markets don't behave like that book suggests, it only happens with Governments fouling things up and creating perverse economic incentives.

Just look at France. Now at ~80% nuclear electricity. Overall, much the same as most other european economies/industries. No big change to report.

rcain
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Post by rcain »

... well, no one can say they didnt see it coming. what are we supposed to do, stall all progress?

Robthebob
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Post by Robthebob »

shouldnt this be in general or implications?

the thing about new tech that replace old tech is... kinda just the way it is. People smart enough have to change or they will lose. I feel like while the physical switch is taking place to replace the old tech with the new tech, there ought to be way more than enough time for companies to adapt.

Engineers of old tech will have to learn new things, do new things. Companies will have to change the direction of their companies. Investers will have to invest in new things. Switches are hard and takes time, but they're doable.

Don't let something like social inertia hold us back from truly great breakthroughs.
Throwing my life away for this whole Fusion mess.

MSimon
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Post by MSimon »

incadecent bulbs instead of compact flouresent.
I don't see a comeback for filament lamps. The hassle of burned out bulbs will be enough of an incentive to keep many people from going back.

And cheap electricity for the home has a drawback. The distribution system is already under strain. Each house might require its own pole pig. Buildings would need to be rewired if consumption went up a lot.

Nothing will change fast. As the old saying goes:

Why is there time? So everything doesn't happen all at once.

I see coal plants being displaced first - base load supply. Other fuel sources will get priced based on electricity/heat to fuel conversion costs. And how about steam extraction from old oil fields?
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

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