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.

  • Industry:

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.

My Questions:

  • 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.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the problem with electric cars isn't in the price of electricity, but in the cost of procuring charging stations, the capacity of car batteries (and indirectly the efficiency of electric motors), and of course the petrol lobby doesn't want to lose their profit. I also believe solar energy would still be worth researching, if only to reduce the amount of times you'd need to recharge; after all, no matter how cheap, what's inconvenient is inconvenient. People prefer carrying PET bottles of water, rather than pay a visit to the faucet every time they're thirsty, after all. $\endgroup$ – Nolonar Oct 20 '15 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. As is, I don't think this is a proper fit for the Worldbuilding SE. We are dedicated to building fictional worlds and are not a discussion forum concerning existing systems. I'd recommend checking out the help center for more information. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 20 '15 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Thanks for replying. As this is story related, I thought this would be appropriate, but if there is a better place for discussing this too-close-to-reality question, please advise. There has been a similar, yet sufficiently different question here that was accepted: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/26506/… $\endgroup$ – 333666555444 Oct 20 '15 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre for this world to even happen, the world would have to not be full of greedy people and corporations, which I think would make extremely far from reality, maybe even the furthest from reality world on this entire site!! haha $\endgroup$ – Aequitas Oct 20 '15 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Why isn't this suitable? A lot of stories are reality with one important tweak and that looks like what he's trying to do here. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 20 '15 at 23:48

I disagree about the electric cars. As it stands now you pay more for the batteries to store the power than you pay for the power. (This is figured on life cycle costs.)

With all the powerplant uses of fossil fuels gone the price will drop--tipping the balance even farther in favor of conventional cars.

Now, with the environmental pressures we might see a changeover to natural gas that was produced from that cheap electricity, but I think we would see that instead of electric cars.

  • $\begingroup$ With so much energy being produced, it would seem likely that more interest would exist in making better batteries (for all sorts of off-the-grid usages). I think you're right that the price of fossil fuels would drop quickly after this breakthrough, but mid- to long-term I'd anticipate better batteries meaning better electric cars. $\endgroup$ – Nich Del Oct 21 '15 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @NichDel There's plenty of pressure for good batteries even now to power all our mobile electronics. Not to mention the existing off-grid use cases. (For example, on the highway heading NE from here most every billboard has a solar panel on it.) $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 21 '15 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ Replacing power plants could actually have the opposite effect on fuel prices. A large turbine can run on pretty much anything that will flow and burn, including the heavy oil left over after extracting the lighter vehicle fuels from crude oil. Without a market from heavy industry, that would change from a profitable secondary product to inconvenient and expensive toxic waste. $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Oct 21 '15 at 2:16
  • $\begingroup$ @QuentinClarkson They would crack it into lighter components. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Oct 21 '15 at 2:49

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