TEDxSydney - Saul Griffith - Living in the Future

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 13.06.2011

[Intro Music]
Thank you Kate, thank you everyone. I quite literally stand here today in my grandfather’s footsteps.
Or about three and a half feet above them.
He was an engineer who worked in these CarriageWorks about 60 or 70 years ago.
And he would actually...they’d roll in the carriages, he'd rip the wheels off and
turn them on a lathe out here. And he would make them, would fix the rolling stock and
put them out on the tracks. He was an engineer and I like to believe that
what he was trying to do was make the future better for his son.
As an inventor, I’m super-concerned about the future.
I try to spend all day there, every day. [laughter]
Unfortunately it’s impossibly hard and it takes forever to come.
This is the problem with being an inventor.
You can see the future and there’s just a lot of tedious work to get there.
I was probably inspired by this type of stuff that I read when I was a kid. The future was
indeed awesome. We were going to go here and go to the moon. It was going to be fantastic.
The guy on the left in this photograph, who I’m embarrassing, is somewhere here in the
audience. That’s my father Ross. He was also an engineer. He worked on textiles for
his entire career. He invented things like...you remember when the annoying seams in socks
went away? He made better diapers and better tampons and worked on recycling textiles.
And I like to think he was doing that because he had a vision for my future that was more
awesome than his. The little guy to his right is my son.
And something amazing happened to me when I became a parent. I really got this thread of humanity.
It is sort of almost a fundamentally human condition to want the future to be better
for your child than it was for yourself. And I think that was an easy thing for my
father to sort of dream up, because we lived in the world of Tintin. But I worry for my
son that we’ve lost a positive vision of the future.
You might notice that I have an interest in comic books. This is sort of a draft for a
comic I’m working on with a wonderful fellow called Nick Dragotta. And we sort of think
this sums up where we think the environmentalist movement is at.
It’s doom, it’s gloom. The world is going to hell in a handbasket.
There is no positive vision for the future. To paraphrase the environmentalist movement:
“If we try really, really, really, really hard; and we make lots of sacrifices, the
future is going to suck a little bit less than it might otherwise.”
Thank you for that headline Greenpeace. [laughter]
I want to go back to this.
I want to live in a future where I’m walking in zero gravity on the moon with a fishbowl
on my head with my dog beside me. Right? [laughter]
That is an awesome future. [applause]
I want to live in a future where I explore
the oceans in a robotic shark, alright? [laughter] This is what we need to do.
And I think it’s a collective failure of imagination that we’re letting ourselves
believe that the future is going to suck. This was a future that drove a lot of us.
This is obviously an image of the first steps on the moon.
The average age of a NASA engineer in the Apollo Program that achieved this was 26.
The average age of a NASA engineer now is 52. You shouldn’t be surprised that we just
flew the last Space Shuttle mission. So maybe this vision of the future isn’t
the right one. But I’m really interested in what is the
amazing vision of the future that’s going to motivate our children and ourselves to
do awesome stuff. This is a company I founded in California
called Makani Power and we are working on high altitude wind power.
This is extracting the wind energy at heights that you can’t reach with a traditional
wind turbine. So what you’re seeing in the video here
is absolutely awesome in my mind. This is a highly glorified remote-controlled
aircraft. Flying at about 200 miles an hour. Missing the ground every eight seconds or so.
This is generating about three or four kilowatts
on each of the two turbines. So this whole wing is producing about eight kilowatts.
So it could power eight or ten homes. This is showing that we can fly in circles.
[laughter] The only challenge between…this is actually
video from on the wing. This is why you need an autopilot. Any normal super-human pilot
would black out in about three seconds. Because this is pulling a constant 9G barrel roll.
And to bring this technology to fruition, we need to do that constant 9G barrel roll
for about 20 years. The machine needs to last that long. You see you need to miss the ground
every time. For 20 years. [laughter] You might think that sounds impossible.
I’m now going to show you 24 hours of video that looks exactly like this. [laughter]
Where we show we can do it for 24 hours. To spare you that I might get Jules to speed it up.
But trust me, it works. 24 hours. We’ve only got another 19,976 to go.
So this is called...this machine, when we finally build it, wants to be the size of a 707.
Here’s the engineers that are working on it.
These are people from all over the world. We have Australians, Brazilians, Englishmen,
a bunch of Americans, some Canadians, even a Kiwi on this team.
He knows who he is. He’ll laugh at that I hope. [laughter]
So this is where we’re at now. We’re getting steadily bigger.
This is now about a 20 kilowatt machine. But once we get this up to being about the
size of a 707, this thing will produce one to three megawatts of electrical power at
a cost that should be below that of coal-generated electricity.
And I believe...this type of thing...that is a future that is awesome.
Huge kites flying in the sky generating clean electricity.
That’s the future I want to live in. Thanks [loud applause]
[microphone static]
Actually I...they hate me when I do segues because they think I’ll go over time...but
my passion for kites came from flying them on Maroubra Beach, here in Sydney, and sewing
my own kites and almost killing myself in the early days of kite surfing.
Thanks for tolerating that Mum - who is also in the audience.
I really got obsessed with energy, obviously, as you can tell.
This is the picture of how we use energy today, as humanity.
We use about eighteen terawatts of energy, broadly defined. Primary energy.
We need to do clean energy pretty quickly. So we’ve got to get - you can see it up
there in the top right - 18 terawatts of power. These are all the renewable energy sources.
This is the one slide you need to remember. So in the top left-hand corner, there is the moon.
If you extracted all the power in the tides,
that’s three terawatts. That’s not going to get us there.
Same with coastal waves. If you extracted all of the waves - so there’s no more surfing
you only get one-sixth of humanity’s power supply.
The reality is we use an enormous amount of power.
Obviously you see at the top there, solar energy, 85,000 terawatts. There’s tons of
it. Let’s do a lot of that. Wind, you can see that there’s about 400
terawatts of wind at low altitude. But at high altitude, where we’re going with Makani
there’s about 3600. So this is sort of the map of what is possible.
Now, we’re not doing a very good job of planning this clean energy future.
Actually we’re doing a terrible job. I’m going to use an analogy here.
We actually used to, politically and socially, plan for the future pretty well.
So this is obviously a map of the Sydney Basin. We use 1.4 billion litres of water per day,
here in the Sydney Basin. But only 36 million litres of water hit that
land area. So we use 40 times more water than actually hits the land area. Someone planned
better than this and in fact we drew from a much larger geographic area than the Sydney Basin.
And you can see - an area that extends to Lithgow and down to Canberra
and that actually is enough to collect the water for Sydney.
It’s going to be a similar challenge with energy.
So this is a physicist’s map of the world. It is square. [laughter] So this represents
the land mass...you thought it was round, didn’t you? New result just in…So here
it is, a square, 12,000 kilometres on a side roughly. You can see I’ve arranged it in
terms of the land area size of every country in the world, from largest to smallest. Russia,
China, Canada, the USA, Brazil, Australia is the sixth largest. If you took an optimistic
view of the renewable energy technologies we have and you thought we would do 10 terawatts
of power in a new country called Renewistan, it would actually be the seventh largest country
in the world - just after Australia. Remember we needed 18 terawatts for humanity?
It means we need to do continent-scale engineering if we want to do it with renewables. That
might mean you look more seriously at nuclear. It’s distasteful at the present political
moment to do so, but we should. When we used to plan for things, we used to plan at large
scales. We need to go back towards doing that. We’re actually launching a project to do
energy mapping for everywhere in the world, so I have data on everyone.
This is how Australia’s energy was produced in 2007-2008. This is called a Sankey Diagram.
The beautiful thing about a Sankey Diagram is that at any section it is equal. If I collapse
this - this is an expression of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that energy is conserved.
So you’ll see on the left there, that’s all the primary energy we put in, from coal
and oil and otherwise. And on the far right, that’s how we actually use it. And on the
far, far right, you get a measure of the efficiency of our whole system. So you can see Australia
is actually doing a pretty poor job. About 30% of the energy we put in at the left actually
comes out on the right. And that’s because of the fundamental inefficiencies
of oil and coal. So we need to fix that.
Here’s actually the more complete view of Australia’s energy future.
Now I’ve added the exports. You can see here that Australia actually only
uses 30% of the energy that we produce. We export 60 or 70% of it. As you can see,
the majority of it is uranium and coal. So it’s a little hypocritical that we don’t
do nuclear energy locally. We just export it to the rest of the world.
The only thing that would concern you here is that we are not investing.
It’s like the Arab oil - they’re using up all their oil. They’re not investing
it back into their own country very well. We should be taking these profits. If we were
planning for the future like we used to, we should be investing it in a domestic solar
and wind energy industry. That would be an awesome future.
Thanks, I get emotional on that. [applause]
Here’s another problem I’m going to step
you through sort of how our energy demand has grown over the last 30 years.
We also have to consider whether we’re going to continue to allow that to happen.
So that’s large-scale energy. I also obsess about very small-scale energy.
This is a bottle. A Coca-Cola product, a bottle of Vitamin Water.
On the left you see the normal “Nutrition Facts” label. On the right you’ll see
the consumption facts. So how much energy does it take to get this
bottle to you. They’re approximately right: about 4 or
5 megajoules to get that into your hand to drink.
Now this is the type of graph that a scientist makes. Awesome information.
Takes about an hour to read. You should never show it on a TED stage.
This is from nature.com. What this says is that the “percentage-reductions-by-a-certain-date”
way of looking at climate change is wrong. On the right hand side this is the risk of
going above two degrees. On the bottom is how many tons of carbon we can emit.
There’s a fixed, known amount of carbon
we can emit before we have to stop, cold turkey. If you actually use that, more accurate, way
of looking at it, you can get a result something like this.
For every unit of energy, like terawatt-years of coal, you can figure out how much CO2 goes
into the atmosphere. The useful thing there is that you can take
the bottle of energy - drink - and you convert that into its impact, as a discrete action,
as parts per million of CO2. Two times ten to the minus 14.
This is a terribly small number, but it’s still a number, and you can measure it.
I think this is really philosophically fascinating. We have entered the “Age of Consequence”.
We can measure the impact of all of our acts. I am a little obsessive-compulsive. [laughter]
This is the impact of every single action in my life.
Right down to my toilet paper and underwear. Flights are in blue.
All my physical objects are in pink. My electricity is down there.
Even my taxes, in that top right hand corner. So you can measure all of these things.
And the easy answer is: “you should do none of those things and use no energy”.
Well that’s not really an awesome future. So you notice I was 18,000 watts.
This is the picture, per capita, for energy consumption in the whole world.
As you can see, Australians are about fifteenth in that list.
Americans are tenth. I’m actually, at 18 kilowatts, I was twice
as bad as the Americans that I was pillorying. And I found out, even though I was running
a wind energy company and I was a bicycle commuter, that I was - excuse my French,
a planet-fucking hypocrite. [laughter] This was disturbing. I really thought I was
the leader of the environmental movement. I was not. I was doing bad things to Gaia.
These are countries that use less than two
thousand watts per person. The thing that’s interesting here is China
and India. More than two billion people and they’re way below two thousand watts.
I’m trying, hard, to go from my 18,000 watts to live at the world average.
That's 2,200 watts. It’s probably close to impossible.
The good news is, the first thing I do is stop paying taxes. That removes about 30 percent.
[laughter] Good news for you all.
It makes you focus your mind and think about how you want the future to look.
It’s not just a project of denial for me. It’s how do I live on 2,000 watts and how
do I live a whole lot better on 2,000 watts. As I was flying over here on the worst air
flight I’ve ever been on, I was in the foetal position crying that I’d never see my two-year-old
again with the turbulence, I was like “my life would have improved if I’d video-conferenced
to TEDx and I would have saved a whole lot of carbon.
And, you know, that’s the thing: to say maybe we don’t need to do as much unnecessary
travel as we do. So, to finish with some cartoons and some optimism.
Here’s the characters from our books Howtoons.
They’re trying to figure out how to save gas.
Here’s the kid who’s heard all of those headlines. And he realises as an eight year old,
“Well, I want the future to be awesome, and the adults are failing me. I will have to save myself."
He lies down in the bathtub, sinks in and you’ll see some bubbles rising.
Realises that he can capture those things. [laughter] Shares the results of his research
with his sister. She thinks it stinks. But at least he’s trying and he ‘s imagining
biofuels and how awesome the future could be with biofuels. [laughter]
In this case, he decides that the school bus is an outmoded way to get to school.
How about zipwires. And he wants to re-invent the future with zipwires.
Now you might thing that that’s a flippant remark, but the reality is two of the most
fuel-efficient, in terms of the people-miles we use to move us around, are zipwires and
roller-coasters. So if there are any eight-year-olds in the
audience, or people who are like eight-year-olds, I can convince you that the future is going
to be awesome. Because in the future, we will ride zipwires to school and roller-coasters.
We have an unbelievable failure of imagination. I want to leave you with that.
Let’s imagine futures where we - where we actually do this.
Sydney would be incredible. If the monorail sucked. Ziplines!
Thank you very much.