So in the first Iron Man movie we’re told that his “box of scraps” we’re told the first Arc Reactor generates some 3 gigajoules per second. Given that 6 gigajoules is about equivalent to the burning of a single barrel of oil, that first shitty arc reactor produced the energy equivalent of 43,200 barrels of oil per day or the entire oil production of Peru. Now, worldwide crude oil production is like 80 million barrels per day, but Stark’s built how many of these arc reactors?
Yeah, that’s just one of the 8347239484 things that bothers me about Iron Man, including almost everything to do with Peter Parker.
The original arc reactor designed by Howard Stark and Anton Vanko, had issues with scaling and the availability of rare earth elements, hence why it was limited to a demonstration plant powering a single factory. Tony Stark’s miniaturized reactor was much more efficient, but its cutting-edge technology is incredibly difficult to replicate (Stane and the whole of Stark Industries couldn’t manage to do it), which I imagine would lead to difficulties with mass production. It also involve the use of unstable elements that poison the user, which would be a major consumer safety and environmental impact problem.
Tony does make improvements, synthesizing a new element based on his father’s theoretical work that allows for industrial arc reactors that don’t poison people. And he is making strides towards advancing industrial usage, creating the Industrial Arc Reactor that powered Stark Tower.
However, while Iron Man has been getting better at the production of individual reactors – as we see from Spider-Man: Homecoming – he’s not yet at the level of mass production, and it doesn’t look like he’s gone much further in the realm of industrial usage (one buidling is not a whole city). I imagine that there’s also something of an issue of military applications as well – Loki used the Arc Reactor to power the portal, Vulture wants to steal them to power weapons, etc.
So like any new technology, it’s still developing. In our universe, solar and wind technology are entire industries and growing quite rapidly, but they haven’t yet replaced coal or oil due to a host of political, economic, and structural factors.
Reed Richards is Useless. You can’t have technology advances become so disruptive that they would make the setting unrecognizable compared to our own.
On a political level, given the mess Tony made of Ultron, I can’t imagine any government anywhere wants him spearheading a green energy initiative, especially with how unstable the arc reactor technology can be.
I stand-by my contention that the government in the MCU is Veep-level incompetent*, which would explain why the Sokovia Accords were allowed become the mess they did, and why there’s been no large-scale push to develop the technology.
*If they ever go back to doing shorts, I think a peek into the MCU White House, or Downing Street, could be a lot of fun, because politicians did not sign up for any of this nonsense.