In this setting, a scientist invents a method for free and unlimited energy that is accessible to each and every one (open source, easy to manufacture...). This happens on nowadays earth.

What would be the main changes in our society?

Changes about politics, and economics as well as the impact on the lives of the people would be appreciated. Details about physics and how this technology might work would not be necessary.

Because such a technology would take time (how long?) to spread (thanks @Jerenda), we need to be looking at what would happen in 2 to 10 years. It is the change itself i'm interested in (not exactly the world as it would be after the technology has settled in).

To avoid extreme apocalyptical scenarios, let's assume that the energy is taken from sources on earth (solar energy, core temperature...) so that we don't go all burning in flames. But yes, some ecological changes would happen and should be taken into consideration.


closed as too broad by Bobson, a CVn, Neil Slater, congusbongus, bowlturner Sep 22 '14 at 1:44

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ I feel like this is way too broad as written, although others may disagree with me. See this post for more information. $\endgroup$ – Bobson Sep 21 '14 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, we should be asking point by point. As a worldbuilding writer/artist you already have a change in mind. What you would/should be asking is if your approach toward that change is valid or not with the given resources, knowledge etc. or you could even ask for a viable approach. $\endgroup$ – Sri Sep 21 '14 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ @FlorianPellet - That's the reason SE changed from closing being immediately closed to being "on hold". The idea is that it gets put on hold until it's cleaned up, and then reopened once it's made into a good question (or closed if it doesn't happen in a week). $\endgroup$ – Bobson Sep 21 '14 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ I really think you need to quality "unlimited". It's a big word in the context of energy. Could anyone who wanted to concentrate enough energy to generate matter and create a black hole? I doubt that is your intent. To get on-target responses, I think you should qualify what level of energy consumption your imaginary device would provide. Also many of society's projects can require vast amounts of energy (e.g. a space launch) but also have input from large numbers of people, so you need to clarify how "personal" this development is, and whether you still need "big energy" separately. $\endgroup$ – Neil Slater Sep 21 '14 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ "What would be the main societal changes if we invented a free and unlimited energy source tomorrow on earth?" - 1. Iron Man isn't as cool anymore, 2. 90s action movies feel even more dated, 3. The energy market invents a better reason for us to need them, 4. Now you get told off for leaving the lights off, 5. Di Caprio gives up his bicycles, 6. A lot of plot holes go un-noticed, 7. We can finally advertise on the Moon $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Oct 3 '14 at 10:14

This mostly depends on what you mean by "unlimited". For all practical purposes, solar power is unlimited. You can use it, for free, for as long as you wish. This is only unlimited over time - you can't have it all right now. If you mean what if everyone suddenly had access to as much energy as they like all at once, then it depends on whether they use it. If they do, then the answer is that the earth would heat up incredibly rapidly and possibly wipe out the population before they realised that they were causing the problem - before they had a chance to switch their energy sources back off again. Only using what you need would cause much less warming. Some people would know in advance not to use unlimited amounts of energy all at once, but those that don't, even if a tiny minority (which is optimistic) would have unlimited energy, so even a small number of them could use their energy to fry the earth.

Obviously neither of these extremes gives a meaningful answer. In order to get specific answers you would need to specify how much energy per second each person has access to.

A few solar panels each

If everyone has the equivalent of the roof of their house covered in solar panels, then everyone can save money by not having to pay energy bills, but no one gets much more benefit than that because you can't sell energy if everyone has more than they need already. So the effect would be fairly small. People still need to pay for other things, so people still need to work.

A hydroelectric dam each

The Three Gorges Dam produces 22.5 gigawatts, enough to power over 18 flux capacitors. If everyone has the equivalent of a large hydroelectric dam then inevitably people will start to use more than they did when it cost them in bills. Exercise rates will drop in people who are not interested in exercise, leading to a greater divide between people who are fit and healthy and people who are not. Temperatures in cities will become considerably higher than in rural areas. At this level people are unlikely to be killed off by a sudden rise in heat, so they would have time to realise that there is a connection and would limit themselves to a tolerable temperature. It would still be uncomfortable though (if it's comfortable then why shouldn't I use a little more energy - the people next door will be...). This may lead to increased migration from cities to rural areas, gradually redistributing the population. This would in turn allow more energy to be used overall without making local temperatures intolerable. Therefore the overall global energy use would continue to increase and the warming effect on the earth as a whole would increase. Without regulation, the temperature would continue to gradually increase as people spread out more and more, with likely increased extinction rates. Eventually food production would suffer and at some point regulation would become unavoidable. How long it would take before regulation was enforced and how long it would take to recover from the damage can only be guessed at.

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    $\begingroup$ Given large quantities of energy, why would we not seek to use it to mitigate the impact to the environment? Furthermore why would we still be limited to earth? $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Nov 22 '14 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @NPSF3000 Good points. Sounds like the makings of a good answer... $\endgroup$ – trichoplax Nov 24 '14 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ A Three Gorges Dam each!? See you. I'm going to Mars. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Feb 5 at 18:48

The answer is one word - annihilate! The society that we see now will cease to exist. The whole world is engaged in the generation, transmission and consumption of energy, with all these economics (medium of barter) and politics (method of control). If every one (I presume you mean human beings) had access to free and perennial energy, there will be no economics and no politics! And, there will be no interdependence of people, so interpersonal dealings will also cease. Everyone will ultimately become a self-contained energy module and realize the truth. Wait! At that stage, there will just be energy all around and no body for realization.

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    $\begingroup$ People interact for more reasons than just for resources. I don't thinkk, for example, that an unlimited energy source would somehow erase the human desire for love, or for recognition. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Sep 21 '14 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ We would have to divert into another study area - what is desire? In a changed society, where the whole truth of existence has dawned upon mankind, will desire exist at all? $\endgroup$ – Sri Sep 22 '14 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ I have unlimited energy! Yay. I mean sure... I have no raw materials, no way of harvesting or utilizing this energy, lack the knowledge to build a rocket or car and still die of infection... or maybe there's a little bit more to our society than pure energy consumption. $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Nov 22 '14 at 13:45

This will cause massive extintion on the planet. All energy used ultimately transforms into heat. Unlimited heat released to the atmosphere... First glaciers and polar ice caps melt, raising sea level by several meters. More heat into the atmosphere and you get massive deforestation and deserts growth: Sahara will likely reach Pyrenees and Alps. Since trees are disappearing most animal species disappear too. Oceans become bald due to high temperatures and diminishing salt concentration. If humans let it continue (e.g. by constructing subterranean cities with air conditioning) you'll get a non-radiactive scorched earth.

  • $\begingroup$ I assume this disaster scenario wouldn't happen if the energy came from some sort of super efficient solar panel system would it? $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Sep 21 '14 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ First, being limited to the amount of power that Sun can provide is not unlimited (yes, it is a whole lot, but not unlimited). Second, all the energy you absorbe with superefficient solar cells can not be reflected back into space, so it will be converted into heat later when used instead (and Earth will become a dark ball viewed from space, not a bright one like now). In this scenario, first stages would happen anyway, just not so fast, but the temperature limit would not be scorching. Maybe (wild guess here) a planetary average of 25C (current is 14C). $\endgroup$ – Envite Sep 21 '14 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the question to kind of encompass such concerns $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Sep 21 '14 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ The concerns raised in this answer is why I asked whether we need to concern ourselves with the laws of thermodynamics, which the OP said we don't have to... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 22 '14 at 21:19

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