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The Optimist's Guide to 2017

Dec 28, 2016


Well, 2016 was certainly a controversial year. But we've had some big leaps forward - not least the discovery of gravitational waves.

It takes many years - sometimes decades - for such fundamental science to work its way through. Firstly, it arrives in the world of investments, and then as technologies we can use. But making that kind of prediction is exactly what we're here for at Exponential Investor.

The question we're trying to ask today is this: if all goes well in a particular field, what could 2017 bring? So let's get started...


  • The UK consents more offshore wind farms and becomes the unassailable world leader in wind. Costs fall in line with expectations - but these are volume-based, so price drops happen much faster than anticipated.
  • The government backtracks on cuts to support onshore wind and solar power. The industry picks up the slack quickly, and installations return to pre-cuts levels.
  • Coal-free days become the norm in summer, not the exception.
  • Tesla's Powerwall battery falls rapidly in price, and states around the world roll out special electricity tariffs to encourage rapid adoption.
  • Desert states start contracting for large solar farms at prices below 2c/kWh.
  • First smartphone "battery" based on an ultracapacitor is demonstrated. It charges in eight seconds and lasts for four days. Apple buys the firm a week later for $8bn.
  • Demand management becomes fashionable for households and a must for industry. The government gives out free plugs that knock out fridges for up to 15 minutes when demand spikes. Philips demonstrates a LED light bulb that automatically reduces brightness by 40% when grid frequency drops.
  • Helion Energy announces it has passed break-even on a benchtop nuclear reactor and begins licensing the technology. The initial sale is so successful, it leads to a float - placing the firm as the world's fourth most valuable company.
  • Oxford Photovoltaics demonstrates solar paint, which can be applied to car bodies, building exteriors and even pavements.
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  • Lilium Aviation launches first viable electric flying car. It's licensedfor autonomous use in rural areas of two US states and throughout the entirety of Cameroon.
  • Legislation gets passed that entitles all UK households to a free charging point for their electric car and gives tax breaks to employers for extending electric-only fleets.
  • The Tesla Model 3 becomes a great success and moves to become the EU's third bestselling car. To meet demand, Nissan buys a licence to manufacture it and export it throughout Europe.
  • Sadiq Khan imposes a daily ¬£50 surcharge on diesel vehicles using London's roads. Traffic and pollution levels reduce by 40% in the first week.
  • Volvo unveils a formerly-secret breakthrough in driverless technology. After passing 100 consecutive driving tests without a minor fault, the car is licensedto be used on German roads.
  • Uber buys up a third of Tesla's global production, and several cities move to outlaw conventionally-powered taxis.
  • "Boris bikes" are backed by the UK government, leading to a roll-out in larger county towns and all cities.
  • Boeing and Tesla announce a tie-up to develop the first wide-bodied electric airliner, optimised for ultra-short-haul routes. London to Paris and NYC to Boston are the expected initial services.
  • Economy

  • Netherlands votes in universal basic income. Employment levels are unaffected, but crime rapidly falls. Enrolment in education rises 18%.
  • Climate

  • Donald Trump orders the immediate deployment of solar geoengineering. This prevents further temperature rises. The US starts steadily reducing temperatures, aiming for a maximum effect within six decades. New ice dynamics calculations show that this will not prevent the break-up of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, leading to a guaranteed sea level rise of 15m. Many governments start making long-term plans to abandon coastal cities.
  • A US Supreme Court verdict finds ExxonMobil falsified climate change information - holding it generally liable for the damage caused by climate change, proportionate to its energy output. The company files for bankruptcy the following day.
  • Technology

  • The rise of voice continues. Amazon Echo becomes free to all customers, leading to near-universal market penetration.
  • Samsung and Apple release VR headsets as standard with new phones. Most games, and nearly all adult content, switches to the technology.
  • D-Wave's quantum computer cracks the travelling salesman problem. To everyone's surprise, it finds that it's best for him to just use Skype instead.
  • Machine learning becomes ubiquitous. Over 50% of apps and websites embed code to optimise performance and predict user intentions.
  • Space

  • SpaceX prepares a probe to orbit Mars and return, demonstrating the process for a future human mission. A second mission places fuel and food in a parking orbit around Mars, ready to resupply the following human-led mission.
  • Nasa confirms the existence of the tenth planet (or the ninth, depending on your views on Pluto). The new body is named Trump, by presidential decree.
  • The first spectral detection of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is made in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, strongly suggesting the existence of an alien civilisation.
  • Chemical analysis of Martian rocks confirms that life previously existed on the red planet. The search continues for living examples.
  • Health

  • A vaccine for cocaine and tobacco enters clinical trials. Early results show the treatment makes it impossible for users to get high.
  • Cannabis becomes licensed as a medical drug throughout the EU. It finds wide use in terminal care, but moves to allow recreational use under the guise of medical need are blocked.
  • Unity Biotechnology demonstrates a one-injection treatment for senescent cells in mice, extending their life by 30%. Repeated injections maintain life indefinitely - but the mice are prone to cancer.
  • The first embryo is created with using DNA from two men.
  • The first conception occurs as a result of biopiracy, when a stalker obtains a DNA sample from an actress' discarded tissue and uses it to create a viable embryo.
  • First graphene condoms go on sale.
  • Mechanism underpinning declining female fertility is identified, leading to plans for a drug to permit natural conceptions up to age 50.
  • Polio is wiped out - following smallpox into history.
  • Please note: This article was first published¬†in Capital & Conflict on 22 December, 2016.

    Nick O'Connor is a writer and editor at Moneyweek. He is also the publisher of Exponential Investor.

    Disclaimer: The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Equitymaster do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site.

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