We are living at a remarkable time in history, where history itself is changing, said futurist and strategy consultant Dr Graeme Codrington at engineering and environmental consulting firm Jones & Wagener’s 50-year celebration function in Johannesburg, on Thursday evening.
In a presentation entitled ‘Tomorrow’s World Today: The disruptive forces shaping the world and how we should respond’, he stated that all the forces of change were currently combining to cause “deep structural changes” to society and the way in which the world functions.
“Every day, there is change in the world but sometimes there are periods of radical shift, where unprecedented developments take place and that is what is occurring currently.”
Codrington remarked that companies needed to look beyond the current budgeting cycles and planning horizon. “There is a need to postulate about what happens after what occurs next in the world,” he commented.
Codrington said there were four main developments currently taking place and these were an indication of what the world would look like in future.
Firstly, he believes, in the next 10 to 15 years, people worldwide are going to see a “dramatic change” in countries’ energy set-up. “In fact, I think this change is already well under way. This will revolve around the greater use of renewable energy and we will have a lot more control over the supply and availability of energy. It will be significantly cheaper and potentially even free.”
He noted that during one weekend in March, Germany’s renewable energy sources produced more electricity than was required and authorities were concerned that the country’s power grid would not be able to cope with the excess power generation.
The authorities, therefore, urged consumers to use additional power assuring they would credit users for the additional electricity used, which, in essence, meant that consumers were being paid to use electricity by the national power utility.
Codrington also commented that solar-powered technologies had become more accessible and affordable in recent years. He pointed out that solar energy had halved in price in the last seven months and the efficiency of solar panels doubled every 18 months.
“There are countries that have recognised the value of solar, such as Morocco, which is developing a 580 MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, in the town of Ouarzazate. The US and China are also planning to build even larger CSP plants,” he added.
Moreover, he pointed out that the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) was another project that could become a “game changer” in the energy sector.
ITER is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which aims to become the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment. It is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor that is being built next to the Cadarache facility in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, in France.
ITER is designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power from 50 MW of input power by 2027. ITER will not capture the energy it produces as electricity – as the first of all fusion experiments in history to produce net energy gain – but it will prepare the way for the machine that can.
ITER also aims to bridge the gap between current smaller-scale experimental fusion devices and the demonstration fusion power plants of the future. Scientists will be able to study plasmas under conditions similar to those expected in future power plants and test technologies such as heating, control, diagnostics, cryogenics and remote maintenance.
Further, Codrington noted that technology company Microsoft cofounder and philanthropist Bill Gates, along with other global business tycoons, had established the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which is committed to funding clean energy companies to develop affordable and efficient technologies.
He said the second factor to consider was smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT). Codrington explained that smart devices were, in essence, supercomputers that provided users quick and easy access to large amounts of data.
“The IoT, however, will be the area of focus for the next 30 years, as we are going to have to build a smart world as every object is going to become connected to the Internet, he said. Therefore, Codrington believes smart devices will become the remote controls at the centre of people’s digital universe.
The third factor is virtual and augmented reality technologies. He envisaged that, in the near future, people would use these technologies as often – and perhaps even more so – than they used their smart devices, as they would be used for everyday tasks like shopping, speaking to friends and for business purposes, such as meetings, project modelling and site inspections.
The final factor is that of changing the way and place where people work. Codrington predicted that in future work offices would be an obsolete concept and most people would work from home or at places more convenient for them than having to travel to work.
He highlighted that the so-called “on demand economy” already existed and would likely become the norm in future. This is where companies contract work out digitally, whereby the employer and employee never need to meet face-to-face.
Codrington concluded that companies should analyse these trends and integrate them into their business models, where possible, and not be held back by old habits and thought processes.
“The rules for success and failure are changing rapidly and companies just cannot afford to be left behind.”