So, year is 2015 and insanely cheap way of creating electrical energy is discovered a few years ago. The details are not relevant but we can assume it's something like cold fusion and that the source is sufficiently small and safe that distribution isn't a huge problem. When I say insanely cheap, I'm saying 1¢ per MWh, around 10,000 times cheaper than today.
How would the world change?
I've made a list that might help so please contribute or criticise.
- Home users:
Not much would change for most people. You wouldn't care that much about your electricity bill, AC would be on most of the time, lights as well. I really can't think of many changes for end users as you literally couldn't spend more than 50 MWh a month as a large household. People would get "too cheap to meter" flat rate electric bill, but that's about it. Heating would be completely electric as well. In essence, slight infrastructure improvement is needed, but nothing very drastic.
Electric cars would become more prominent, Tesla would very likely have charging stations everywhere with free charging for their cars (a quick calculation gives us 100kWh/day * 365 days * 20 years per car = 730MWh per car's lifetime, $7.30 which would be included in car's price tag). Price of certain metals and chemicals obtained by electrolysis and distillation would lower, but not insanely.
More interesting is desalination by distillation. Some calculation revolving around energy required to boil water gives us around 7000L of distilled water for 1MWh. Even when accounting for huge losses, getting 1 cubic meter of completely clean water for 1¢ is much less than I'm paying for it. Flooding the Mojave desert, 65,000km² and, let's suppose, 100m deep would be a huge undertaking but would only cost around 10 billion dollars in water. Attempts to reclaim deserts would be a real possibility. Some googling gives the energy content of a kilo of gasoline to be 45MJ, so 1MWh should, in energy equivalence, amount to around 80L of gasoline. Even getting one liter of it per MWh would make gasoline much cheaper than it is now. This might lower the adoption of electric cars significantly.
Coal, solar, wind and geothermal would very soon be completely abandoned as energy sources. Hydro would stay, but it wouldn't contribute much to overall energy supply.
- What other changes are likely to happen?
- What things are mostly or significantly limited by electricity price?
- What impact (extra heat) would we have on the Earth?
On the one hand you'd have CO2 emissions lowered by orders of magnitude, on the other you'd contribute a lot of wasted heat. My assumption is that whatever the increase, we probably can't match the sun but I might be wrong.