Prof. Dr. Ludger Hovestadt & Dr. phil. des. Vera Bühlmann

ENERGY IN THE METALITHICUM ERA—DOMESTICATING THE WEATHER

While today’s energy and climate discussions often view the related problems as an expression of a political, economical or technological crisis, we regard them as the expression of a cultural crisis. The lecture presents a technologically valid model for a digital energy future which will bring us an abundance of potential power, and which is also capable of solving the CO2 problem. Yet it will bring about a new very fundamental challenge: the need to conceive culture on the basis of principles of abundance instead of scarcity.

The convergence of information technologies with energy production and provision systems will allow us to experience a similar shift as we have already experienced with the media environment: from few-to-many structures organized around the separation between producer and consumer to a many-to-many structure organizing around the behavior of prosumers & conducers. The energy internet as a peer-to-peer power provision system is not a utopian fantasy anymore, it is a possible reality. But this change is not the only point of convergence. The mass-production of solar power devices through printing technology is another remarkable one. From an economic point of view, energy producing devices for the first time follow Moore’s law just like Computer Chips do, they are becoming very cheap very quickly. Pretty soon, Kilowatts can be available to us like Kilobytes are today: potentially abundant.

This potential abundance of power is one of the main characteristics of a fantastical-philosophical era of our cultural history we propose to call “the metalithicum.” Referencing the Neolithic Revolution, the term indicates that we will be able to abolish fire, flames and combustions as typical stone-age technologies from our energy equation. Amazingly, the resulting cultural-technological structure much resembles the geophysical weather system and biological ecosystems. We think of the domestication of weather in a radical way. Instead of inhabiting territories, based on the exploitation of the resources we can find on and in the ground, and based on the refinement of mechanical technologies to manipulate, control and administer these scarce existential basics, in the metalithicum we begin to inhabit the climate.

It is not just about harvesting energy from natural currents like wind and waves, it is about mimicking the whole natural system of dissipation (“weather”) and utilization (“ecosystems”) of solar energy. The flow of solar energy that can be tapped by contemporary photovoltaic technology exceeds the global needs of today by a factor of 10’000. Solar energy is not renewable energy, it is a cosmic energy flow. Other than solar power, finite and renewable power is gained indirectly, from the produces of the various ecosystems. With the advancement of solar technology, we can plug into the solar flow directly – and this turns our culture into an ecosystem of its own. Culture is not a sphere that exploits the products of other ecosystems anymore. As a consequence, weather and climate get a cultural subtext. From an engineering and architectural point of view, the challenge consists in inventing genuinely electronic “irrigation techniques,” in developing infrastructural plug & play devices for cultivating and solidifying the wild and abundant streams our new cultural habitat currently consists of.

Biographies

Dr. Ludger Hovestadt is professor for architecture und information technology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. Over the last decade he furthermore has become an investor into several ventures and spin offs, originating in and driven by his interdisciplinary research. Complimentary he serves as acting president of the digitalSTROM alliance that promotes a new standard for electrical intelligence to be used with smart-grids and the internet of energy. Hovestadt develops with his next book, co-authored with Vera Bühlmann, an optimistic paradigm for a promising energy and climate future thriven by new thinking and new technologies. For this purpose he has founded the e-planet initiative to campaign for a clear alternative to the many outlooks ruled by apocalyptic attitudes today.

Dr. phil. des. Vera Bühlmann is media philosopher researching at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland. She has published and lectured on new media culture and design research. Her major focus regards a philosophical notion of the virtual as an eminently practical and pragmatical figure of thought, especially in relation to the current changes and challenges for the engineering and construction practices imposed by a digital architectonics. Together with Ludger Hovestadt she is co-authoring an upcoming book on the digital energy future. For this purpose she has co-founded the e-planet initiative.