A morally questionable organization is developing a power source based on quantum fluctuations (zero-point energy), citing the Moray generator, freedom particles, the Searl effect, and so forth as foundational research.

Since these are at best theoretical, using known science as a springboard, what possible adverse effects might occur as a result of tapping into an infinite, free power supply (other than human-induced such as socio-economic fallout or nefarious political schemes)?

The answer doesn't have to be explicit or even feasible, just plausible, along the same lines as a Hadron collider spontaneously creating a black hole or a tear in spacetime, or EM fields disrupting brainwaves and causing cancer. It will be dumbed-down for a teenage protagonist when put into use. The only major criterion is that the negative effect must be evidential/discoverable by a layperson. Any ideas?

  1. Stuff besides energy is produced.
    Monsters and ghosts from adjacent dimensions. Warping of the mana lines and psychic disturbances.

  2. Too much energy is produced.
    Runaway power generation, flooding thru uncontrollably. Meltdown etc. Stuff blows up real good.

  3. World gets warmer.
    This one is real. If you start using free energy in a serious large scale way the fraction lost as heat will warm the world. I mean using energy on orders of magnitude larger than we use energy now. Large scale desalination, terrestrial "terraforming", or turning energy directly into the kind of matter you want (like difficult to obtain elements etc).

  4. Destabilize the place your energy is coming from.
    For every watt we harvest from Casimir forces, several billion additional watts are lost as waste. We do not perceive this waste, but by bleeding the little understood realm where this energy is, we risk splitting the seams of the FABRIC OF THE UNIVERSE. Then the Universe's underwear will show.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Brilliant, this is exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping for. Trying to avoid summoning monsters at this stage, but the others are observable and quantifiable by the protagonist and workable as plot elements. Destabilizing the "fabric" is a good catch-all because the practical effect could be almost anything. I very much like the manifestation of terrestrial effects too... creative juices flowing for sure, thank you :) $\endgroup$ – CeliaFate Sep 8 '20 at 1:14

It turns out that so called zero-point energy is actually rather a false vacuum:

In quantum field theory, a false vacuum is a hypothetical vacuum that is somewhat, but not entirely, stable. It may last for a very long time in that state, and might eventually move to a more stable state. The most common suggestion of how such a change might happen is called bubble nucleation – if a small region of the universe by chance reached a more stable vacuum, this "bubble" (also called "bounce") would spread. A false vacuum exists at a local minimum of energy and is therefore not stable, in contrast to a true vacuum, which exists at a global minimum and is stable. It may be very long-lived, or metastable.

In layman terms, this would mean that vacuum actually contains some energy, extracting that energy however causes the false vacuum - potentially across the whole universe - to collapse into a true vaccuum. Or so the theory could go in your story.

I don't know if much of this is experimentally confirmed, but there's the theory that this would not happen below a critical size treshold of this "true vaccum bubble".

If you don't want the bubble to destroy the hole universe, you can think of effects that make the nucleation self limiting: The energy released by the collapse, and radiated outward, actually raises the potential energy of the false vaccuum to a point where handwave handwave bubble burst.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a pretty good thought - I could localize the effect by theorizing that spacetime is self-correcting, and that there are relatively harmless anomalies at a low draw (early testing) but potentially catastrophic effects when put into production scale. $\endgroup$ – CeliaFate Sep 8 '20 at 14:05

Existing sci-fi has some pretty nasty side effects:

  • Project Arcturus An attempt to extract Zero-Point-Energy from our own universe to use to power a defensive weapon. Exotic particle creation resulted in power overload, the weapon auto fired on everything in line of sight to delay overload. Scientist team gave their lives to shut it down. Second scientist team arrived 10,000 years later, activated it, lost control, and fled. Resulting explosion blew up the solar system.
  • Tunney Matter Bridge An attempt to mitigate global warming (by pushing energy from our universe into another, eg "Reverse ZPE") results in an out of control heat sink in the desert, creating a tornado storm, and scary freeze lighting. Bill Nye saved the day.
  • The road not taken An attempt to extract tiny amounts of zero point energy from multiple universes concurrently, coincides with another universes experiment to phase shift in a force field, resulting in pulling an entire lab from one reality to another, killing the researchers.
  • McKay and Mrs. Miller An attempt to extract Zero Point Energy from a parallel universe resulted in a rip in space time in that universe. An alternate universe version of the main characters comes through in a force shield to warn them and ask them to stop.
  • $\begingroup$ These are good examples, but I need to address this in a small town with a group of 3 teens without major drama, so exploding transdimensional labs and runaway particle canons aren't on the menu. $\endgroup$ – CeliaFate Sep 8 '20 at 4:19

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