JANUARY 7, 2020

It is impossible to predict what will be the next disruptive innovation or technology. Good old Wikipedia defines disruptive innovation “as one that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market-leading firms, products, and alliances.” The iPhone was a disruptive innovation that changed the world as we knew it. Blackberry, a Canadian company that had cornered the market on smart phone had already replaced Nokia, a Finnish company that had practically cornered the market on the small cellphone; both became passé overnight and disappeared faster than they had entered the world and our lives.
One thing is very clear, natural gas, which has been so much a part of our political economic discourse in Israel over the past weeks and years is not the next disruptive technology. Natural gas is simply an improved version of more of the same. Natural gas pollutes less than other fossil fuels and it looks and smells cleaner than coal or oil-based fuels, but it is simply a diversion and not a real change. Natural gas is also controlled by the very same companies, politicians and tycoons who control the other fossil fuels.

Our government in Israel is up to its neck in natural gas. Our Prime Minister has promised the people that billions will come back to the country and save our health care system and our collapsing hospitals, our educational system which is falling behind the rest of the OECD countries, and other parts of our nation’s infrastructure. It will not. I believe that within a few short years, natural gas will become passé and the billions being invested in it worldwide and in Israel will be wasted resources – if the corrupt politicians and gas tycoons are forced to untie the knot that holds them in power and keeps the natural gas profits in their pockets.
Looking across the globe of where the most amount of money is being invested in new technologies, I believe that the next disruptive technology will be energy storage. I have been told that more than $7 billion is now spent annually on research and development of energy storage technologies. I don’t know if the solution will be found in new smaller and more efficient ion-lithium batteries – perhaps, but because these are based on a scarce natural resource, probably not. Some say that the breakthrough will come from hydrogen – perhaps, because there is an unlimited supply of hydrogen. The problem has been its tendency to explode.

Perhaps it will come from something else which is only now being developed in a small laboratory in some unknown corner of the world. But it will come, and it will be soon – in a number of years. And when it comes, our world as we know it will be changed.

The sun provides an unlimited source of energy. The technologies to capture the sun’s radiation and turn it into electricity are improving daily and their prices, which have come down to grid parity, will continue to make solar energy one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of energy. The ability to produce more electricity than we use during daylight hours already exists. The problem is that when the sun goes down, the costs of storing the daylight energy and the efficiency of storage do not yet meet our needs.
When we will be able to store all of the energy that we need and to deploy it when and where we need it, fossil fuels will disappear from our lives. The car industry will be changed forever. Many of the fuel companies will no longer exist, except for those which are already investing in energy storage. They will become the Blackberry and Nokia of the energy world.

Electricity utilities, often monopolies, like the Israeli Electricity Company, will be dismantled because energy generation and storage will be distributed locally, not centralized. We will generate and store energy at the community and home level. Larger electricity production facilities will offer very cheap energy during times of the day when there is excess storage. Smart grids, which have already been developed, will come of age when energy storage for solar power is efficient, stable and cheap enough.
We are already seeing electric cars and buses replacing fuel-burning vehicles on the streets of Europe. Even in Bethlehem and Ramallah in Palestinian cities there are several electric charging stations available from the municipalities for free charging of electric cars. I saw them also in public car parks in far away Iceland. More hybrid cars are already entering our automobile market, but these, too, will be a thing of the past when they will be replaced by 100% electric cars.

I started by saying that it is impossible to predict the next disruptive technology. That is true. But it is definitely not natural gas and it may not be energy storage, but I would put my money on it.