12 May 2021
Quentin Scrimshire

Why we’re no longer talking about the ‘energy transition’.

Henry Ford didn’t say people wanted faster horses. He said, “what they wanted was less horse s**t”. It’s a paraphrase, but you get the point. Technological transitions are exponential trends, and they happen much faster than most of the bell curve realise. It’s completely normal. Electric lighting, automobiles, telecoms - all of these revolutionised industries, societies and the human condition. And, the folks who got left behind were focused on the ‘transition’ rather than concentrating on the future.

Be kind; please rewind.

Think back to Blockbuster. In the late 90s, Blockbuster employed 84,000 people and had 65 million customers. A global force. In the 2000s, Blockbuster’s revenues were dropping. So, they lined their stores with sweets to increase footfall and dabbled with subscription and digital products. This was experimentation rather than strategic conviction. After all, Blockbuster’s revenue model was highly geared to ‘late fees’ rather than subscriptions. And, customers wanted the video store experience, right? Blockbuster talked about the ‘transition’ to digital and new services in their public communications, but they were happy to hold onto the old world of bricks and mortar for as long as possible. This was a mistake. Almost overnight, their real estate holdings went from being an asset to a liability.

At Netflix, the ‘transition’ was just a series of hurdles that they had to cross, but they were really focused on the future opportunity presented by digital networks. Despite a growing DVD-by-post business, Netflix commissioned optical fibre networks, sold its DVD distribution centres and invested in a digital content distribution service.

What can we learn from this?

In the 90s, most people thought Blockbuster would win any war because they had so much power and resources. Instead, Blockbuster underestimated how quickly the future came, didn’t feel the urgency to change early enough, and once they did, it was too late. If they were focused on the future rather than the ‘transition’, they probably could have started restructuring their business model early enough to have an edge on Netflix. The only way they would have been able to survive is by changing everything, and alas, restructuring an entire business is difficult to do.

Technology adoption curves get frighteningly steep, frighteningly quickly.

What’s wrong with the ‘energy transition’?

Focussing on the transition bit misses the point. Sure, technology means that many will get left behind. Technology will completely reshape supply chains - new companies will form, and loads of companies will go bust. This is normal.

We’re not just moving from fossil-fuelled energy to renewables. What’s happening is 100x bigger.

Technology is disrupting the energy sector. Technology will reform our entire energy system - transmission and distribution companies will change beyond recognition. The supply and demand sides of the equation will be distributed and decentralised. Intelligent machines will be the primary consumer of energy. Information will be a fundamental part of the future energy system - as important as the generators and transformers of the physical world. See the image below - if you focus on the blue bit, you’ll miss the green bit.

Let’s focus on the Future Energy System

Focussing on the Future Energy System

At Modo, we have decided to focus on the Future Energy System that we want to build rather than getting bogged down in the disruption of the energy transition. There’s too much at stake and too little time. And, the beauty of the future is that it hasn’t happened yet, so you have to imagine it...

Our vision for the Future Energy System

At Modo, we imagine...

  • A future energy system of people, machines, infrastructure, and information optimised for clean, abundant, and inexpensive energy.
  • A future energy system governed by democratised, decentralised and transparent markets that are accessible and serve everybody.
  • Within the Future Energy System, information is the key enabler for all people, businesses and societies to utilise the system for prosperity.

Our mission is to empower the people building the Future Energy System with high-quality information. We’re going to build for the future, not for the past. We want to enable all the visionaries, agitators, disruptors and builders to deliver the Future Energy System at breakneck speed.

The Future Energy System will be full of 80s typography too (we hope).

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