Some Experts Say “Moore’s Law Does Not Apply To Solar PV” – Kurzweil (and Page) Disagree

Exponential growth of computing. 20th to 21st ...Image via Wikipedia

In his call to action two weeks ago, Al Gore compared the future development of solar electricity sources to the development of the semiconductor industry. His implication was that Moore’s Law, which reliably predicted that the price/performance of semiconductors doubled every 18 months, would also apply to photovoltaics.

ComputerWorld, in an article two weeks ago, assesses this comparison as flawed. (As did Harry Gray of Cal Tech, as I reported earlier today.)

“But does Moore’s Law also apply to the solar energy industry? The short answer is no. As with microprocessor technology, the price and performance of photovoltaic solar electric cell is improving. And Gore can clearly point to price drops of solar cells to make his case. But the efficiency of those solar cells — their ability to convert sunlight into electric energy — is not increasing as rapidly.”

The article goes on to suggest reasons that Moore’s Law might not apply – there’s a lot more to solar panels than just silicon, while the price/kilowatt has been coming down, it doesn’t seem to be coming down fast, etc.

However, there are other opinions. The best explainer and interpreter of Moore’s Law, and exponential growth in general, is Ray Kurzweil. His Law of Accelerating Returns is essentially a generalization of Moore’s Law that applies to all information technologies. (Learn a lot more about accelerating returns and exponential growth in his recent book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.)

A panel convened by the National Association of Engineers, including Kurzweil and Larry Page of Google, concluded that:

“We are not that far away from a tipping point where energy from solar will be [economically] competitive with fossil fuels.”

Kurzweil characterizes solar energy technologies as “information technologies,” especially as nanotech gets into the picture.

“We also see an exponential progression in the use of solar energy,” he said. “It is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we’ll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years.”

I think we may be at one of the most interesting points in human history, when technology is changing so fast around us that in twenty years the world will almost literally be unrecognizable compared to today. (One of the side effects of the Law of Accelerating Returns is that the world changes completely on a regular basis – it just gets faster and faster!)

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6 thoughts on “Some Experts Say “Moore’s Law Does Not Apply To Solar PV” – Kurzweil (and Page) Disagree”

  1. Cost per 1W of solar panels

    1970 $100.00
    1980 $28.50
    1990 $8.50
    2000 $3.00
    2010 $1.00 (equivalent to CONG retail electricity)
    2020 $0.30 (cheaper than CONG wholesale electricity; these version 2.0 technologies are already visible)
    2030 $0.10
    2040 $0.03
    2050 $0.01

    # Solar’s price drops at least Three-fold every decade, and has been doing so since 1970, ie. For 40 years!

    # This year solar power reached parity with grid-delivered retail electricity to residential and commercial users if produced on large-scales, ie not just on your family’s roof, where it costs twice as much.

    # By or before 2020, Solar will be as cheap as or cheaper than Coal, Oil, Nuclear, or natural Gas (King CONG), even at point of production utility grade wholesale electricity

    # Solar’s worldwide growth rate of installation last year was 92%; it has consistently exceeded a 45% annual growth rate for a decade

    # At that growth rate, and with the continuing plummeting of the price of solar panels, Solar power will produce < 400% of today’s Global Power by 2050
    .-= Bryan Berndt´s last blog ..Russian Subway Dogs – The Colbert Report: 2:30 mins inIf inside… =-.

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