“People have lived and died, businesses have prospered and failed, and nations have risen to world power and declined, all over energy challenges.”
Richard Rhodes | Energy: A Human History
The world’s transition away from fossil fuels is not only inevitable, but in fact is well underway. This sentiment, until recently acknowledged primarily by environmentalists and clean energy advocates, is now being embraced and even championed by the likes of Shell Energy and bp (formerly British Petroleum, rebranded as Beyond Petroleum). We have emerged from what Buckminster Fuller referred to as humanity’s womb of permitted ignorance. The consequences of the industrial revolution’s practice of extracting and burning Earth’s energy capital to support ever-expanding, consumptive and wasteful economies have come full circle.
The corporations that made trillions of dollars in profits while compromising our waters, soils and atmosphere are now maneuvering to control the energy transition narrative. And they may succeed if unchallenged. My unscientific Google-search survey revealed that Shell, bp and other corporate stakeholders including McKinsey and Company, Bain and Company and Deloitte have all developed energy transition scenarios. I have read some and at least skimmed them all. It should come as no surprise that their visions of our future energy options are ones that they can comfortably continue to prosper in. However, none pretend to describe optimal pathways for achieving a sustainable, equitable and secure energy outcome for all. Instead, they settle for “practical” solutions that avoid rocking the ships of states and preserve as much of the status quo that will sustain their profitability as possible.
Shell, bp and other corporate giants are also walking the walk together with investment partners. Substantial public and private investments in clean energy solutions continue to flow. This is perhaps the clearest indication that the energy transition is not an abstract concept.
“Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has issued a request for proposals for supplying up to 5000 MW of carbon-free energy that must be operational before 2029. Nuclear power, along with renewables, is listed among the sources acceptable to TVA.”
World Nuclear News | July 13, 2022
“Despite this year’s stock-market volatility, investors have plowed money into areas seen as vital for minimizing global warming such as removing carbon from the atmosphere and making better batteries. The cash came even though shares of publicly traded companies like battery maker QuantumScape Corp. are down by 50% or more this year.
In the past month, Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s conglomerate said it would partner with TotalEnergies SE to invest $50 billion in green hydrogen over the next decade. BP PLC took a large stake in a more-than $30 billion project in the Australian outback.
Shell PLC said it would build Europe’s largest renewable hydrogen plant. And startups in the sector raised hundreds of millions from the likes of TPG Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.”
Wall Street Journal | July 13, 2022
All this still may not be equal to the task of addressing the breadth and depth of the energy challenges and overarching existential threat facing the global community. They will require more than technological solutions although technology will clearly play the pivotal role. What’s needed is a bold and timely transformation of the global life support infrastructure that is in resonance with Nature’s regenerative design strategy.
To that end, one of the clearest and most concrete roadmaps leading to a truly sustainable, equitable and secure energy future is that charted by a world-around electric grid powered entirely by Earth’s renewable energy income with the potential of providing everyone everywhere with reliable, affordable, and carbon-free electricity as conceived and first proposed by Buckminster Fuller in the middle of the last century.
“In the early years of Trudeau’s premiership of Canada, when he was about to make his first visit to Russia, I gave him my world energy network grid plan, which he presented to Brezhnev, who turned it over to his experts. On his return to Canada Trudeau reported to me that the experts had come back to Brezhnev with: ‘feasible…desirable.’”
Buckminster Fuller | Critical Path
Under the auspices of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, a World Game™ Workshop team has been assembled and charged with developing a series of exercises designed to illustrate how a comprehensive design science approach to problem-solving can shed new light on humanity’s options for addressing the climate crisis.
Engaging people to envision a contemporary realization of Fuller’s world grid is the centerpiece of our current activities.
“Present hub-and-spoke networks were designed for central power plants, ones that are close to users. Such networks need to be reengineered. Spanning the world electrically evokes Buckminster Fuller’s global grid.
Even before the discovery of high temperature superconductivity, Fuller envisioned electricity wheeled between day and night hemispheres and pole to pole. Worldwide deregulation and the free trade of electricity could give buyers and sellers establishing a supply-demand equilibrium to yield a worldwide market price for grid provided electricity.”
Energy for a Greenhouse Planet. Science. November 1, 2002
World Game™ Workshops are built around a radically different perspective of Earth supported by the use of the Dymaxion™ Projection—a map created and patented by Bucky that provides a visualization of the entire planet with minimal distortions; a more geographically accurate world map than the Mercator projection most of us were introduced to in school.
The Dymaxion™ map also promotes the understanding of global cohesion. It does not follow the North-up convention. Neither does it follow any South-up, East-up nor West-up—there is no right way up. Bucky was quick to point out that we live on a sphere for which the concepts “up” and “down” have no meaning. This is more than a matter of semantics. Earth navigation involves three operational directions: in, out and around.
Perhaps most important regarding the current climate crisis, is the DymaxionTM revelation of a “one island, one ocean planet.” The unfettered flows and recycling of resources make possible synergetic, emergent, regenerative energy interpatternings that are a primary source of Earth’s resilience.
The one-island perspective is obscured by conventional map projections. The resource and energy flows that fuel the Earth’s resiliency are severely limited by the world’s 195 nation-state boundaries that Bucky likened to blood clots.
Bucky’s prescience anticipated the intractable phenomenon described by policymakers today as the Energy Trilemma: the inability to simultaneously optimize sustainability, energy equity and energy security. A world grid could address all three optimally. It could tap the global solar, wind and water renewable energy resources and take full advantage of their geographic, seasonal, and night-day complementarity. In the process it could turn what has been considered a liability—i.e., the intermittency of renewable energy generation—into an asset, making the goal of a secure 100% renewable energy system accessible to all a realizable one.
I am careful to note that a world grid could meet these goals. An interconnected grid could also be configured to maximize profits disproportionately distributed to benefit one or more entities. In fact, strategies designed to do just that are already under consideration. The world grid would provide the enabling infrastructural context to expand geographies of cooperation.
Our research has identified some of the trends and events that indicate the degree to which movement towards a democratized or profit-driven global grid appears to be gaining the most traction. World GameTM Workshop will monitor those trends and take advantage of as many communication platforms as possible to inform and, if need be, to facilitate appropriate responses and/or actions.
So, here’s the good news: The technological barriers to the realization of a world grid are being addressed or are within reach of being overcome. China has established research facilities in China, Europe, and North America to identify and work on the latter.
Our World Game-based world grid exercises build on Bucky’s goal to “make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
We are focusing on examples of cross-border cooperation with the potential of contributing to the construction of a world grid:
“Cross-border cooperation is understood as collaboration involving governments or administrative bodies of at least two countries with a direct electricity interconnection. Collaboration can be realized in various forms from intergovernmental meetings to dedicated institutions with legal mandate. Collaboration in the field of electricity often involves private actors, particularly grid operators and utilities.”
Dr. Karoline Steinbacher, Cross-border cooperation for interconnections and electricity trade (2019)
These efforts are, in effect, making the boundaries that separate sovereign nations more porous—dissolving some of the synergy-inhibiting blood clots. I was surprised by the number of grid integration initiatives that have been established and are in play. Examples of regional cross-border power grid integration include the South African Power Pool, Central American Electrical Interconnection System, Pennsylvania-New Jersey and Maryland Interconnection, and the Asian Supergrid.
Even more surprising is the fact that Europe’s Union for the Coordinated Transmissions of Electricity (UCTE)—Europe’s single market, interconnected grid—has been operating since 1951. It is unquestionably a major factor contributing to European countries’ high rankings in the World Energy Council’s Energy Trilemma Index that measures individual countries’ performance in simultaneously achieving energy sustainability, energy equity and energy security.
Obviously, a world grid would not have to be built from scratch. The foundational underpinnings already exist or are under construction—the result of Bucky’s prediction of “spontaneous cooperation,” driven by the convergence of need and opportunity and not by politics.
This, I suggest, is a source of optimism. Not a guarantee by any means, but a real sense that options for systemically addressing the climate crisis are within reach.
Our World Game Workshop initiative, Cross-Border Electric Grid Cooperation and Integration, will track and monitor these activities and use the information to simulate, visualize and map their potential contribution to the realization of a world energy grid.
Director of Policy and Systems Design
Inquiries regarding this work in development can be directed to: