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Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.

Philip Thicknesse is the former head of Futures UK Defense Concepts and Doctrines Center. He is also part of the PS21 International Advisory Group.

Captain Hutchinson first appeared in the Imagining 2030 piece Deportations and Terror. He has returned again for part two of his Imagining 2030 story. 

Hutchinson got home just over three weeks after sailing north from the Falklands. After a quick handover to the oncoming Master, he was picked up at the dockside by his wife’s Amazon LiOn, a self driving electric car that she had dispatched to meet him. 45 minutes later he arrived at their house,  which sat on the edge of one of the many villages around the edge of Dartmoor in southwest England.  Once he had got out and removed his bags, the car backed itself onto the charging point. Hutchinson, who had a taste for technology spent a few moments looking at the power controller next to the car to see how their micro generator was performing. In addition to a large roof mounted PV array, the house also had a ground source heat pump and a gas boiler, which doubled as a micro generator, with the hot exhaust driving a turbine. As the house was effectively power neutral all year round, the boiler was only occasionally needed to top up either the hot water, or the large domestic storage battery.

Since the the 2020’s, a succession of British governments had embraced and encouraged the development of a wide range of new technologies designed to transform the UK’s energy needs.  The increasing volatility of  oil prices had made national economic planning almost impossible, particularly as most advanced western economies had ceased to grow, having achieved full output, to the consternation of the majority of economists indoctrinated with the orthodoxy of constant economic growth.

As part of the new comprehensive strategy to deal with Islamic extremism, one feature of which was the wretched transportation programme, which still filled Hutchinson with deep unease, the UK and her western partners had concluded that, as Saudi oil wealth had funded the bulk of the Sunni extremist movements, part of the solution might be to dramatically reduce the west’s reliance on oil. Other nations, including, crucially China, rapidly adopted the same stance and joined the technology race.

In 2020 the Labour party had published, without apparent irony, their flagship policy for the election ‘The Electrification of the United Kingdom’. They were trashed at the polls, but PM Osborne liberally cherry picked the policy, though he chose to overlook the curious recommendation that Russia should be the preferred provider of oil and gas to the UK.

After the general election the Labour Mayor of London banned all internal combustion driven vehicles, which caused a massive outcry, but then a rush to electrify. The first driverless taxicabs appeared and in an attempt to humanise them, passengers were given the choice of listening to a selection of ‘cabbie pearls of wisdom’. Most chose silence.

Now, just over 10 years on, the results were beginning to show. Not only had Hinckley Point ‘C’  finally come on line, but the replacement civil nuclear programme had accelerated, with the aim that 2/3 of the UK base load should come from nuclear energy. A number of large scale tidal energy programmes had been approved, following the early success of the Swansea barrage, which generated almost 15% of Wales’ power.  Sadly, the Severn barrage, which had been talked about for at least the last 50 years, and which could theoretically have produced at least 5% of UK’s power, has still not been built, but the plans had recently been dusted off.

But perhaps the most useful transformation had been at the local level. Every public building and industrial structure was required to have as large an array of PV panels as possible and planning laws had been amended to favour micro generation.  As the sector grew, money poured into R&D, and by the late 20s, most panels were operating at about 40% efficiency, double that of only 15 years before. Many of these technologies had been relatively commonplace, but unnecessarily complicated by a number of dubious schemes which encouraged micro generators to sell their excess power to the grid.

This had all changed when Tesla brought the first domestic batteries to market, allowing power to be stored. Other manufacturers had rapidly followed suit, led by Mercedes Benz, and by the mid 20s most homes were able to store well over 20 KwH. The combination of a large domestic battery and the car battery, which actually functioned, for the most part, as an additional reserve of domestic power, allied with a range of ultra low power devices, was resulting in significantly lower demands across the UK power grid, allowing the base load to be used for industry and in cities, where opportunities for micro generation were fewer.

Even in dramatically reduced quantities, oil remained significant, but largely in the aviation, maritime and military sectors. The UK continued to import what it needed from Norway (rather than Russia, to the dismay of the Stalinist core of the labour party) but the UK fracking  industry was slowly bringing product extracted on the mainland to market and the LNG terminals at Milford Haven and the Isle of Grain were converted to export the surplus.

At sea shipping companies were beginning to experiment with nuclear power, last used in the merchant ship NS Savannah in the 1960s, although the Russians had persisted with nuclear powered icebreakers.

In the commercial aviation sector, most aircraft were powered by ultra high bypass geared turbofan engines, allowing major hubs like Heathrow to operate 7 busy terminals around the clock without disturbing the residents of west London.

Perhaps the most unexpected, but most welcome, consequence of this rush to electrify and automate had been the revival of the country pub. Hutchinson and his wife decided to celebrate his homecoming with a trip to their favourite Dartmoor hostelry  ‘The Bearded Loon’ and were on their way in the LiOn, which would bring them safely home later, even though they fully intended to be happily smashed.

Now, there’s a future to savour.

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