Tony Seba

The financial and investment world has been put on notice: it has just 15 years, if that, to be rid of fossil fuels and conventional transportation, and the result will be as significant as the switch from horse and carriage to motor cars.

That’s the prognosis delivered by the The Age and financial readers courtesy of Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba in Australia on Tuesday.

It’s one with the potential to counter the increasingly negative sentiment on climate as record temperatures continue to be broken globally and the reality of sea level rises start to impact in places such as wealthy Miami in the US, with the city facing dramatic projections for increased flooding as seas rise and hydrologists say, “We are practically going to have flooding all the time.”

Seba, originally “dismissed as crazy”, is now catching serious attention from investors,” the report said.

The most powerful part of his forecast is that it’s directed not at government inaction on the topic of climate change and sustainability but on the financial imperatives at play.

There is “no excuse”, he said, for any board of a utility not to know what’s coming.

Instead, centralised power generation will diminish and most cars will be electric.

Seba, author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation said, “It’s the end of energy and transportation as we know it, and it’s coming very quickly.

“It’s going to be over by 2030; it has started already.”

Four technologies were driving change: solar power, battery storage, electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

The International Energy Agency, he says, is wrong to underestimate the change. More significant is that solar power costs have been slashed from $US100 a watt to US45c a watt since 1970.

It’s not the first time Seba has hit the headlines on this topic. Earlier this month he told Thai energy businesses and government ministers that petroleum would cease to be a source of livelihood for some of them and become obsolete by 2030 or sooner.

“The energy and transport industries will become high-tech industries,” Thailand’s The Nation reported.

Consumers will switch “en masse” to electric vehicles by 2020, when prices for electric cars drop to around US$20,000.

“Petroleum – 60 per cent of which is used for transport – is going to become obsolete.”

“Solar will find the tipping point when the cost of unsubsidised rooftop solar falls below the cost of transmission. This means even you [conventional power plants] can produce at zero [cost] but you still cannot compete with [rooftop] solar that has no transmission cost,” he said. All kinds of centralised power generation systems will become obsolete when solar moves beyond the grid-parity costs to achieve what he called the “God-parity” status by 2020.

Other game changes include “sensors/Internet of things, artificial intelligence/machine learning, robotics, 3D printing, 3D visualisation, mobile Internet and cloud, big data/open data, unnamed aerial vehicles/nano satellites, and eMoney/eFinance.”

So what about “jobs and growth” in this clean energy smart tech world?

Well it’s like sustainable architect Caroline Pidcock once told an audience: when the motor car came along the horse and cart drivers had to find something else to do.

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