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In my world Humanity has spread across the solar system and extra terrestrial states are common.

I want trade to exist between worlds because trade is flipping amazing, so I have spent days dreaming up the best inter-planetary currency. Fiat money seemed good at first, until I considered why on earth (or in space) a moon you've newly opened relations would trade their precious metallic deuterium and rare earths for your 1's and 0's.

Commodity Money I was wary of, what with one world's carbon lumps being another world's diamonds, but then my mind became fixated on the one commodity for which there was both perpetual and universal need: Electricity, the energy currency of man.

I am currently trying to determine whether or not the idea is practicable or not, so I've come to ask the good people of Stack Exchange

**What strengths and weaknesses would electricity have in terms of use as money? **

Some notes ~

This question is about the use of electricity as currency its self, not as a means of backing currency

The people of this world have access to most if not all chemically possible battery types, including lithium-fluorine batteries and smes using metallic hydrogen

Assume the energy-value equivalence isn't something crazy like 1000 kilowatt hours per shilling or something like that

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    $\begingroup$ The biggest issue is that it is super hard to store electricity. At current market prices the value of the materials to make batteries far exceeds the value of the electricity that can be stored in them $\endgroup$ – sdfgeoff Sep 24 '17 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ My wallet is a solar panel and it comes with a crank for emergency... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Sep 24 '17 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly I suspect this idea is not a practical proposition $\endgroup$ – Slarty Sep 24 '17 at 9:43
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I see no advantage in this kind of "flashing money"; OTOH I see a few drawbacks (sorry, I know this is not what you really wanted):

  • you would need virtually infinite capacity "wallets"; if you have any idea on how to do those I'm sure Elon Musk would be very interested.
  • you would need a very high energy transfer rate and efficiency; given the involved energies even the slightest "lost in transfer" would completely fuse your battery.
  • given the amount of energy stored everyone would be walking with a (quite powerful) bomb in it's pocket; what in case of accident (even barring intentional terrorism attack)?
  • worst of all: you are moving away of everything that has fueled our world in the last few centuries: what you propose is to actually go back to barter, where "money" had a value in itself (as gold, silver and whatever). Even "backed up" money is completely gone from our world as all currencies are "floating" (i.e.: their value is completely determined by the "belief" they are actually worth something, nothing else). I don't want to say this actually is a "Good Thing"(TM), but I don't see any way to go back unless you stipulate really separate ecosystems where no global interchange is possible.
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    $\begingroup$ "given the amount of energy stored everyone would be walking with a (quite powerful) bomb in it's pocket" - as the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 shows, we already do. $\endgroup$ – sdfgeoff Sep 24 '17 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ @sdfgeoff: Yup! ... and it was storing only penny-sized amounts of energy; a wealthy man could carry the equivalent of an atom-bomb for his casual shopping. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 24 '17 at 8:52
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With current technology, no. In near future, probably also not. In far future, there are other issues.

With current technology the cost of the energy storage far exceeds the value of the energy that is stored. A quick check of hobbyking tells me that a 24Wh lithium battery costs \$8. The electricity to charge it? At 14c per KWh, it costs \$0.003 to charge it. Lithium is a rare and reactive material, so I don't see the cost of batteries dropping below their charge.

In the near future with, the two may become comparable. And if we start shipping uranium as 'batteries' for nuclear reactors, then we probably go into the 'feasible' basket - but then we're shipping radioactive rather than electricity.

The issue here is that electricity is super super hard to store in large amounts.


But there's another problem:

Earth has enough natural resources (rivers, solar etc) to provide more than enough electricity for the entire population for the foreseeable future. Why would this be different for other inhabited planets?

Ignoring transmission and generation costs (aka what you could sell it for), this is what it would be. Electricity by itself is relatively valueless. For it to be worthwhile shipping electricity, the value of the electricity has to exceed the cost of storage and the cost of transport. It also has to exceed the value of building a generator.

A generator is literally a money producing machine.....


But to me the real assumption you've made is this:

perpetual and universal need: Electricity, the energy currency of man.

Up until two hundred years ago, electricity was valueless in that it didn't exist. In the future it may fall into obsolescence. I mean, can you imagine trying to ship around pressurised tanks to provide power for hydraulic or pneumatic systems? That's the sort of thing you are proposing. We are currently in the electricity age, so this kind-of makes sense, but I suspect another energy source will come along to replace it.


So what could make it work?

  • Handwavium super cheap methods of storing electricity (crystals if you want to go 1960's style)
  • Ensuring that electricity demand is, in fact, universal.
  • Having electricity hard to produce for some reason to inflate it's value.
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  • $\begingroup$ There is effectively nothing existent or theorized that is even remotely as good as electricity at all of its facilities, such as power transmission and conversion into heat and work, much less better. Suggesting a replacement of electricity is much like suggesting that light based vision may one day be replaced $\endgroup$ – user15036 Sep 24 '17 at 9:08
  • $\begingroup$ Think of the power that a steam engine can generate! Surely nothing can be better? 200 years ago, the method of power transmission and conversion into work was hydraulic, pneumatic or mechanical. They had piped gas to each house to provide heat. I doubt the engineers of the time could conceive of significant improvement. In a few hundred years humans will look back and laugh at today's electrical empires. And light based vision? Why shouldn't it be replaced? Isn't that what thermal cameras, radio telescopes, neutrino detectors and so on do? $\endgroup$ – sdfgeoff Sep 24 '17 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ the electron is a lepton, a fundamental particle of the universe listed on the standard model. It's utilized the electromagnetic force, one of the five fundamental forces in the universe. This is not a mater of human perspective, its a matter of the physical limits of the universe. There are only five exploitable fundamental forces in the universe, and only one that is usable as far as energy transfer. The electromagnetic force. It is one of only two forces that can work at ranges long that the length of an atom, the strongest being the one we are using. The electron is the best there is. $\endgroup$ – user15036 Sep 24 '17 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ it is the laws of the universe that constrain us this time, not cleverness. Comparing the advent of steam power and electricity is like comparing a diesel engine to an antimatter engine, one operates at the limit of efficiency, the other does not. Electricity Optimus Maximum, non plus ultra $\endgroup$ – user15036 Sep 24 '17 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ A long time ago there are only four types of matter. Earth, Water, Air and Fire. These days there are 118. Once upon a time, people thought there were only five 'fundamental' forces..... Electricity is the best that we know, just as hydraulic was the best that they knew (electricity was only good for parlour tricks for a very long time). Claiming that we have reached the pinnacle of energy transmission and conversion is hubris: Can we transmit energy through gravity waves? I can't think of anyone who's tried. Can we funnel high energy plasma across a country? etc. etc. $\endgroup$ – sdfgeoff Sep 25 '17 at 19:42
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Since making electricity is quite easy, why would one use a currency which is easily counterfeited? One hour exercise on your training bike connected to a dynamo can spare you from doing some job and get paid. It's like a can scribble a piece of paper whenever I need 100 bucks.

Moreover batteries into space are not going to last: radiation and EM fields are going to mess them up (besides they have large masses which is always bad in space travel).

So your currency has none of the features a currency should have:

  • hard to counterfeit
  • durable over time
  • can be stored
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  • $\begingroup$ Is it counterfeit though? It's still real electricity at the end of the day, it's just been generated in a slightly less formal way than most expect. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 24 '17 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash, there is a reason why we use gold and not dust for currency... else I would be filthy rich! $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Sep 24 '17 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes there is but gold is gold and electrical charge is electrical charge you can't counterfeit gold (as an element) and you couldn't counterfeit actual charge, the fact that anyone could generate wealth that lacks the scarcity to be a really useful currency doesn't mean you can counterfeit it. $\endgroup$ – Ash Sep 24 '17 at 12:28
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If you have something like Peter F. Hamilton's Niling D-Sink then sure; basically you need a bottomless hole you can pour electricity into in order to use it as a currency. Otherwise you just can't ship it in great enough quantities to use it for large purchases. You also need to have unified standards on electrical infrastructure or one can't plug in their currency transference hardware from Earth on say Mars and vice versa. Also this is effectively a commodity currency so there needs to be universal demand for the commodity, for example a back to basics Amish-esque colony will have no use for interstellar energy transfers. So assuming you can ship enough energy, everyone has a demand for such energy, and everyone uses the same hardware for it you could trade it. But rate of exchange could be problematic, supply and demand and all that.

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