It's no secret that Gene Roddenberry's venerable "Star Trek" metaseries has inspired the imagination of millions since it first debuted in 1966. Strange worlds, compelling characters, and more techno-babble than you could shake a stick at have always been hallmarks of the series. But Star Trek has also been noted on many occasions throughout the series for seemingly predicting (or perhaps inspiring) the progression of technology.
While we're certainly not cruising the galaxy in starships trying to pick up green women, a lot of Trek tech seems to have not only become commonplace but in some cases even obsolete and antiquated. Taking the original series as a key example, the flip-style wireless communicators seemed space-age during the show's run. Today if your phone isn't a touch-screen equipped slate-style smartphone, it's practically an antique. Modern communications equipment is more in line with Trek's famed tricorders than it is with a simple communicator.
So what does this mean for the world of energy? Quite a bit, if the trend seems to follow. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of "Star Trek" and virtually all other forms of science fiction knows that a vessel capable of interstellar travel never stops at a gas station or tries to get by with "putting five bucks in." Unless you count Lone Starr's space Winnebago from Mel Brooks' “Spaceballs," but that's beside the point. In the realm of sci-fi, traditional energy sources like fossil fuels have been largely abandoned in favor of presumably more efficient and abundant energy sources.
Granted, we aren't exactly harvesting dilithium crystals for our warp cores just yet, but science is slowly and surely crawling its way towards a new era of energy production. Even the staid alternative, solar power, is seeing a new lease on life as technology advances. R&D firm Artemis Innovation Management Solutions recently presented the proposed SPS-ALPHA solar satellite, an advanced solar energy collection platform which would shed solar power's night-time limitation.
While a new era of solar power alone isn't necessarily the wild world of energy we might expect, it does begin paving the way for yet more exotic options. By establishing the collection of solar (or rather, stellar) energy via autonomous platforms, the stage is set to begin development of radical technology such as the hypothetical Dyson Sphere or Dyson array. Postulated by Freeman Dyson, these structures would employ a massive structure or array of independent satellites surrounding a star and collecting the radiant energy for transmission to a nearby distribution center. While the Dyson sphere theory may seem outlandish, SPS-ALPHA's innovative design could be the first step in proof-of-concept should it be successful.
Research also continues into yet more exotic energy sources, such as the vaunted antimatter of science fiction. Antimatter already sees use in medical imaging technologies such as positron emission tomography or PET scans. The energy released during a matter-antimatter interaction is beyond incredible, with a single kilogram each of matter and antimatter capable of producing the same amount of energy as 43 megatons of TNT. Such energy generation only falls slightly below the yield of the Tsar Bomb, the largest and most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever detonated. While antimatter faces issues of scarcity and controlling the reaction to produce stable energy instead of a flaming nuclear hell-storm, the potential is there to create an incredibly potent energy source.
These are only a few small examples of the exotic energy tech that will almost certainly be waiting in humanity's future, but the simple fact is that energy technology is constantly evolving. Even fossil fuels are increasingly being refined to reduce their environmental impact, while alternative "clean" energy sources such as solar, geothermal, tidal power and wind power are seeing a greater role in the global energy market.
Maybe we aren't sitting back and enjoying free, limitless power just yet. But the groundwork is already being laid, and someday may be the key in allowing our descendents to boldly go where no one has gone before.
By. Shea Laverty for Oilprice.com