Electricity and the Human Prospect Conference

During the 20th century electricity spread from tiny islands of experimental service to become the world's most important energy carrier. The fraction of energy converted to electrons before consumption has risen inexorably and approaches 40% worldwide. Few would argue with the judgment of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering that electricity was the most important innovation of the past century. Electricity transformed homes, factories, and offices, the work we do, our health and comfort, and how we spend our time. How will electricity transform the 21st century?

More flexible and cleaner for the end-user than the coal, gas, and other sources of energy services that it replaced, electricity will likely be the form that 55%-60% of energy takes in four to five decades as more and new electrical machines appear in the market. How might life change as this imperial technology conquers new domains?

And what about the 1.6 billion people who today lack access to electricity? Will global electrification be achieved in the coming half century or even sooner? If some regions defy electrification, what are the reasons? How might electrification change occupations and lifestyles of the poor?

During a two-day workshop on the implications of global electrification, we aim to assemble a fresh picture of visions for electrification, its trends in time and space, and selected implications for health, environment, and social and economic organization. We are inviting diverse experts to comment on these issues from the vantage of their disciplines, practice, and research. We are asking each to talk about their current work, ideas, and speculations rather than commission new studies. The novelty of the meeting lies in the diversity of perspectives and the chance to contrast and integrate them. Global electrification is far advanced and may be nearly complete in the coming decades. What will it take, and what may result?