Ramez Naam on the Future

Ramez Naam is a Futurist who wrote on transhumanism and accurately predicted the growth of Solar Energy and batteries for over ten years. Ramez recently had a lengthy interview published at noahpinion on substack.

Here are some prior videos where Ramez gave talks.

Here are some updated opinions and predictions from Ramez.

1. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is going to substantially accelerate the clean energy transition. I [Ramez] say this as someone who invests in clean energy and climate tech startups, and keenly watches the pace of innovation in these technologies. In particular, the war in Europe is going to accelerate the development, deployment, and price decline of the technologies needed to replace natural gas.

Natural gas (methane) keeps the lights on and it is a regionally traded commodity. Oil is a global commodity. Oil is moved extensively in tanker ships around the world. Europe could stop buying Russian oil and buy oil (or refined oil products, like gasoline or diesel) from somebody else. Natural gas is different. The world has relatively little shipping capacity. To move gas over oceans you have to chill it to -160 degrees C, and turn it into a liquid. That’s doable. But it’s relatively expensive. And so most gas is moved by pipeline.

Ramez talked about long term energy technology:
1. Energy storage, especially long-duration energy storage. Store multiple days of energy, for the long periods in winter when you don’t have sun and you may have a wind lull for days at a time. Those technologies are nascent. Scaling them is going to have a massive impact on driving down their cost.

2. Electricity transmission and the grid. Political barriers could drop.

3. Electrifying building heat.

4. Offshore wind and floating offshore wind.

5. Green hydrogen. A third of natural gas usage is for “industrial” uses such as making fertilizer and chemicals, or high temperature heat. New deployment of electrolyzers that use solar and wind electricity to electrolyze water into oxygen and “green” hydrogen. This could replace natural gas in these applications. NBF Notes: any energy like Nuclear can also power electrolyzing water.

6. Nuclear fusion, geothermal anywhere, and other next generation “clean firm” resources. NBF notes that nuclear fission including new molten salt nuclear fission fits here as well.

Ramez also highlights some important climate change technology areas.

Decarbonizing agriculture and ending deforestation.
Stabilizing fragile ecosystems.

Those two topics relate to the Nextbigfuture video on accelerated forestation to offset trillions of tons of CO2. Making massive numbers of greenhouses would densify farming and make the crops grown in greenhouses more resistant to temperature changes, other weather and drought conditions.

Direct climate system interventions. Geo-engineering.

The mildest form of geo-engineering is actually a variation on growing more plants. This is to create algae blooms. 4 to ten guys in Jaws boat could place 100 tons of iron powder into the ocean and generate a 1 to 10 million ton algae bloom that would take that mass of CO2 to the bottom of the ocean while also feeding algae to fish like salmon. This happened and worked in 2012. 200 boats could each do this twice per month and offset all of the 40 billion tons of CO2 we generate every year and massively boost fish stocks. This action would be replacing the 98% of whales killed over the last few hundred years.

Separate Non-Ramez Naam Assessment of Nuclear Energy

Columbia University looked at increasing Europe nuclear energy to reduce Natural gas imports.

1. Postpone the decommissioning of the 6 GW of nuclear capacity in Germany and Belgium due to be retired by early 2023. This may be challenging, as these plants will need fuel and a qualified workforce to operate the plants, but given that they are still operating, it could be possible to reverse the process if the decision is made soon enough. This action would not significantly change the situation in 2022 but will have an impact on next winter and add close to 50 TWh in 2023, mostly from Germany and Belgium.

2. Restart the 4 GW recently decommissioned in Germany. This can be technically challenging and costly, and could face local opposition. To the extent regulatory and political barriers are removed, action needs to be taken quickly. As time passes, it becomes harder to restart plants, as they will need a workforce and fuel, which has to be ordered well in advance specifically for each reactor. However, such a process could add another 30 TWh by 2023. How much can be added in 2022 depends on the speed of the process.

3. If French nuclear generation EDF were able to increase its power generation back to 2021 levels quickly, that could add 10 TWh in 2022 (the upper range of EDF’s forecasts) and 50 TWh in 2023. Given that France has typically low load factors, there is an upside to going back to above 400 TWh—the levels reached in the mid-2010s—but this may be limited by the number of 10-year inspections happening over the coming years.

If these three options are achieved, Europe’s nuclear generation would reach almost 660 TWh in 2022 and 760 TWh in 2023, compared to 735 TWh in 2021. Looking at 2030, an additional 14 GW out of the 100 GW operating in 2021 are expected to be retired. A reassessment of nuclear power plants could be done to determine which plants could safely be operated longer.

Nextbigfuture notes that nuclear power plants generate heat as well. Heat generated can be used to heat water for building and other process heat.

Ramez is More Negative About Antiaging, Singularity and Space Colonization

In 2003, Ramez wrote his first book, More Than Human, and was writing about life extension technologies, gene therapies and gene editing of both adults and children, human augmentation tech, brain augmentation and neural interfaces. And guess what? All of it has gone much, much more slowly than I [Ramez] forecast then.

I [Ramez] am, in the words of the Extropian philosopher Max More, a “Dynamic Optimist”. That means I [Ramez] believe that things will get better. But not because they just magically get better on their own. I [Ramez] believe they’re going to get better because we’re going to make them better. It takes action.

Ramez thinks the Singularity is further than it appears.

Ramez on Space. The prospect of self-sufficient colonies in space any time this century seems dim. Not because we can’t develop the technology to do it, but because the incentives to do this are extremely minimal.

Ramez on Human biology, and especially “life extension”. In medicine, we’re doing amazing things. Yet progress is more difficult with each increment.

None of this makes me a pessimist about the future. I [Ramez] think the future is better than the past. But I [Ramez] am a skeptic of the narrative that overall progress (as measured in quality of life of the median human) is really rapidly accelerating.

Brian Wang of Nextbigfuture notes this is why having someone like Elon Musk who can make very profitable businesses developing space is so important to accelerating human progress. If the incentives are weak, then it is critical that we find ways to create high profitability while generating these important long term goals. Elon is doing that with Super Heavy Starship, self driving electric cars and with Teslabot. It does not and should not be all Elon Musk but others need to study how he creates new highly profitable leading edge industries and emulate.

32 thoughts on “Ramez Naam on the Future”

  1. EVs might be used to adapt quickly to changes in wind power during the night, instead of building grid stabilization batteries like those Tesla built for Australia. Probably best if they just supply their own home's needs when wind power drops off and the grid sends out the 'voltage dropping' bat signal.

    Many sequential hot or cold but calm nights would still be a problem to be solved some other way. We can:

    • tolerate occasional brown-outs and black-outs, or
    • give the power companies control over our electricity use (unlikely), or
    • keep close to 100% of reliable electricity production capacity available despite not using it when the wind blows or sun shines.
  2. There are mitigations for solar flare induced blackouts, if the utilities ever invested in placing them at major substations.

    Attack, or effectively ransoming, is unavoidable though. The fundamental assumption is that globalism succeeded so far to intertie countries that it becomes fundamentally not in their interest to do that. It's sorta like that running joke about countries that have a McDonalds. Russia has amply demonstrated that joining the global supply chain, then withdrawing, is a bad way to run an economy, Only if you stayed relatively independent from the beginning does that allow a partial ability to disconnect. The US has become too dependent on the EU, Japan, and China to disconnect. EU is also codependent. China is on the edge of being able to fully disconnect if it needs to, but they are cognizant of the domestic damage that would cause.

  3. if your energy demand forecasting is so bad that you can't access spinning reserve or ramp up other sources over the course of a day, you get burned. But that's not that different from the way things are now anyways so…

  4. A variation of that theme is a nuclear power barge. It lets the french build it, but Germany and Poland can keep it in their harbors. Plus, if they grow tired of them for whatever reason, you can always repossess them and haul them home to france…

  5. I've only heard of one significant scale experiment in this area, and then the research was shut down.

  6. I don't disagree, except maybe not having seen any record of saturated O2 measurements in any previous experiments (Antarctic maybe?).

    Worth looking at legal precedent for doing this in international waters. Those slightly dubious plastic scooping booms being tested on the GPGP could be put to good double use as nutrient spreaders.

  7. Algae can only bloom to the limit of ALL nutrients; You top off the limiting nutrient, which is generally iron in the ocean far from shore, and they grow until they run out of something else. Near the shore runoff is supplying every nutrient they need. Out in the middle of the ocean, the water is pretty clean.

    There have been some experiments on iron fertilization, and they didn't result in hypoxia. The thing is, if you're doing it deliberately, you can measure the levels of other nutrients, and calibrate the release.

    I think the key point to remember, and it's related in the iron fertilization video above, is that we're not talking about introducing unnaturally high levels of iron, but instead restoring iron levels to their previous natural levels, which have been reduced on account of whaling breaking the ocean's iron cycle.

    The oceanic ecosystem is actually evolved to handle higher levels of iron than it's experiencing today. We tend to forget, because of presentism, that the environment we see about us isn't a natural environment, it's one we had already extensively modified, often in bad ways.

  8. got any reference for that? always happy to fill in knowledge gaps.

    It is true that these blooms cause the biggest problems near the coastline, or in low circulation areas. Can definitely see open ocean areas being an attractive option, but creating hypoxic zones would still be a concern

  9. Agreed, that is a horrible graphic design. I think that may have been deliberate, it's not like the source, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, would really want the awfulness of solar and wind to leap out at you. That particular graphic design is common in the 'alternative' energy sector.

    The dipping below zero is intended to display periods of energy storage, (In the pumped hydro) I think, but the main thing it does is obscure that the conventional sources are just ticking along boringly putting out power, like a power source is supposed to.


  10. I think you may just be confusing algae blooms in already nutrient rich areas, caused by things like fertilizer runoff, and algae blooms in largely abiotic areas, where the "bloom" is hardly more than a return to normal levels of biological activity.

  11. Renewables in Germany are already growing fast enough that if they simply stopped shutting down nuclear and didn't further cut their use of coal, they could eliminate their need for Russian natural gas for electricity generation within two years. They might need to expand their NG storage to be sure of having enough (from non-Russian sources) all year long to back up the renewables' variations.

    That still leaves non-electricity uses of Russian NG to be displaced somehow, of course.

  12. Who designs a graph like that? What does it even mean, to show power going below zero, when that is mixed in with certain types of producers like uranium and biomass and hydro occasionally being shown dipping below zero? My guess is they just tried to do too much with a single graph, and near-destroyed its usefulness as an illustrative device.

    Stacking, sure, that makes some sense. But put the most stable producers at the base, progressing upward from zero to the more variable producers, and stick the dependent producers (like pumped hydro and I guess imported electricity) at the very top. Otherwise it automatically becomes a wiggly, indecipherable mess where you can't even tell that uranium is a stable source and can barely notice that brown coal gets heavily curtailed when the variable renewables are available.

  13. One problem is that those may not be reliable customers for such a long term investment.

    Suppose Russia kicked out Putin and started (apparently) playing nice again. Five, ten years along, will Poland and Germany keep paying for French electricity over that produced slightly cheaper at home*. (*with Russian gas…)

    If Germany and Poland were truly committed to permanently avoiding Russian fuels, the reactors would be built in Germany and Poland. Germany wouldn't still be dithering about whether to keep its nuclear power plants open.

  14. Algal blooms with nutrient deposition only sequester about 2-3% of the captured carbon, the rest goes back into the ocean carbon cycle and some quickly renters the atmosphere. Worse, some is converted to methane by bacteria feeding on the algae.

    It is also not a boon to fish stocks as a notable problem with algal blooms is deoxygenation of the top ocean layer, something fish don't survive all that well especially at the scale needed for gigaton removal.

    There is definitely promise in algae cc and sequestration, but dumping ground up rust overboard and crossing your fingers every year will not be a good solution.

  15. Long distance powerlines are a great way to enable continent-wide blackouts, as well as being notably vulnerable to almost trivial attacks.

  16. Well, V2G car battery "virtual powerplants" feeding back to the grid might offset some of that necessary grid storage, but as you say, right now the planning for grid storage is insufficient, and increasing it will never be easy or cheap.

    Sadly with the current political climate, the next best idea is unavailable; using high power HVDC long distance transmission east-west between grids separated by substantial timezone differences, as that means russia for the EU. North-south system concepts like DESERTEC don't provide the time offset (though do provide some seasonal/weather offsets).

  17. That's right. And remember that wind is an indirect and inefficient result of differential solar heating. The amount of power available through solar is always going to be greater than what's available through wind.

    This can be hidden by the fact that wind can accelerate over a very long distance due to the atmosphere not being well coupled to the ground, and accumulate a lot of kinetic energy, which can be drawn down locally in a concentrated way.

    It's actually been estimated that if you tried to power civilization off wind power, the climatic effect would be roughly similar to 720ppm CO2 levels, or roughly double what we have today.

  18. Remember if you use wind anywhere near capacity, it will cause significant changes to patterns of rain downwind of your farms. Coasts will become significantly wetter and downrange will become drier. If the Greens complain about ecological effects of hydropower artificial lakes, they ought to be positively screeching about this.

  19. His prediction about the Russo-Ukrainian War accelerating energy source transitions notably lacks a timeline. Energy production infrastructure is a multi-year capital investment before you get a single milliWatt out of it. While nuclear plants could be kept in service, re-opening old ones could be more expensive than building a new one. I'm not aware of any instances where a shuttered nuclear plant has reopened, there's an entire regulatory schema that bureaucrats will have to build from scratch – and they have no incentive to make it cheap and easy and fast.

    in terms of new building new 'clean' energy generating infrastructure in sufficient quantity to replace gas/coal and oil, the timelines look like this.

    2030 is impossible, they would already have to be approved and ready to break ground in the next two years
    2040 is unlikely, as the only politically supported means are the unreliable wind generators and ground based solar farms. These, as has been oft pointed out on these pages, still required 'dirty' power generators to meet demand. Ramaz is at least honest that multiday – and around here multi month is required – data storage is in the science lab state to see what's possible. No technologies have been identified as being feasible technically, much less economically.
    2050 – well, thirty years out we'll be using fusion, right?

  20. Rather than erratic sources and storage, we'd be better off with reliable sources and negligible storage. You always lose a bit of the energy storing it and retrieving it, and in the end you need the production capacity anyway, storage doesn't change that.

    If you want to throw the Greens a bone, (I obviously don't.) let's go all in for SPS. It's solar without the outages.

  21. With you on this. I WANT energy atorage like that, but it doesn't seem logical. At least not at this time nor at necessary scale. I could be wrong, but I don't think our tech is there. We may needing term energy storage for outposts on other planets but we aren't there, yet. Putting a pin in that.

    But I see a combination of better fission and fusion reactors shouldering energy production snd eventually just fusion. Perhaps sea wind and solar. Mostly some kind of nuclear, though. Time will tell what becomes viable in terms of "green" energy. Depends on other technological progression.

  22. Better watch out Brett! I may like what you are saying but the top lawyer at Twitter may be departing soon and may infect whatever comments services provider that NBF is currently using.

  23. Indeed, and that's why America and Europe's Green parties are actively subsidized by Russia, in much the same way as they kept the various 'native' communist parties going during the Cold war.

    Russia's war against Ukraine has created a moment in which we just might be able to topple these insane Gaea worshipers from power, and return to rational policies. This is NOT the time to be kowtowing to them!

  24. And here's combined production for several days, all sources. See how horribly erratic wind and solar are? And yet, that's what he wants Europe to rely on? Why?

    The guy seems to understand that nuclear is a great energy source. I think maybe he's just given up fighting the Greens, accepted that they're going to win in the end, and force us into using 'renewables' even if they don't work well.

    But we can't let them win. The Greens aren't just well meaning idiots. They're civilizational enemies, the barbarians already inside the gate. If we don't learn to beat them, Western civilization is doomed, things will just keep getting worse and worse as we're forced to abandon everything that actually WORKS.

  25. Sure, wind can have capacity. And yet, the last time I was driving through Northern Germany, a few years back, all the windmills I passed were standing still. Because wind isn't dependable. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't, and the periods when it isn't can be quite long. So you don't just need a lot of storage and over-building, the longer the period you're trying to go without brownouts, the more storage you need.

    Here's a graph of wind power production in Germany for a 3 month period, see how variable it is? That's not a characteristic you want in a power source. Wind and solar are terribly erratic!

    Generally when people talk about the cost of solar or wind, they're talking about the capacity when things are humming along ideally. The problem is that, if you want reliable power from these sources, you need to over-build several times over, AND include maybe a week or more of storage, which multiplies the cost many times over.

  26. Agree, except that on the numbers, wind has about twice the capacity factor, and a fifth the entailed emissions, of solar. With a lot of hydro as backup, it can actually reduce fossil fuel use – not nearly as much as hydro with nuclear, though. Here at 46 S, solar mostly works when you don't really need it.

  27. France seems committed to their EPR2 reactor. Just overbuild and ship the power to Germany. Poland is taking offers for multiple plants. Just overbuild and ship the power to Germany.

    Instead of using extra wind to charge batteries, farm BTC with the excess power.

  28. Yes its stupid to pay for 100GWhr of battery that you maybe occasionally use when things go awry with your intermittent power generation. All that capital invested in something you occasionally need.

    Put the batteries where they will be used- in cars. Charging and discharging every day.

    In other nuclear news Poland is looking to go nuclear.

  29. Yep. If the current European war shows something, is that tyranny promotion by financing the hydraulic despots is a really bad idea.

    All working renewable schemes either depend on something reliable backing them up or oil & gas, mostly from despotic regimes.

    Countries must ensure their energy sovereignty by going nuclear, or bend the knee to king Putin/the Saudis/etc.

  30. ". Energy storage, especially long-duration energy storage. Store multiple days of energy, for the long periods in winter when you don’t have sun and you may have a wind lull for days at a time."

    Look, I'm just going to come out and say it: That's fundamentally stupid.

    You're going to deliberately become dependent on fundamentally unreliable sources of energy? Deliberately? Not because it's all you have, but as a calculated decision?

    What is this, some sort of mania? Gaia worship?

    Look, the Sun I can kind of see. It's not dispatchable, and it supplies radically different amounts of power from day to day, but it does at least predictably come up each day, so with enough over-capacity, (lots!) and storage, (Again, lots!) and throwing away excess power in sunny weeks when the storage has filled, (Wasteful!) you can make something that looks like a reliable source of power, if you squint. Horribly expensive at that point, and you've got so much acreage covered with dark panels you've spread the urban heat island effect out into the country side, but it would work.

    Wind is fundamentally unreliable. Solar maybe has a place, it at least peaks at about the right time of day to help with load leveling, but wind is just stupid, with no redeeming characteristics. If you set out to design a stupid source of power, wind is likely what you'd come up with.

    Look, screw storage, just build baseline nuclear plants, and when the Greens object, kick them in the nads and build them anyway.

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