100% Solar Energy In 20 Yrs No Problem, Says Futurist Ray Kurzweil

by John Johnston on 02/25/2011

in Business,Politics,Technology

Ray Kurzweil

Futurist Ray Kurzweil has a prediction about the future of solar energy. He asserts that solar technology is improving at such a rate that it will soon be able to compete with fossil fuels. It will also be able to supply 100% of the world’s energy in about 20 years.

Kurzwell has previously, and successfully, predicted that a computer would beat a human in chess by 1998, and that a worldwide communications network would emerge in the mid 1990s.

Many of Kurzweil’s predictions are based on his law of accelerating returns, which maintains that technological change is exponential rather than linear, and that information technologies grow exponentially in capacity and power. This has been observed with computer processing power, which has doubled every 2 years for almost 50 years.

Kurzweil believes this is also the case with solar technology. Solar power is doubling about every 2 years globally, and it has been doing this for the past 20 years.

Today, solar energy is more expensive than using fossil fuels, but costs are declining fast. We are only a few years away from solar being around the same cost as fossil fuels. Kurzweil maintains that after that point, solar will continue to go down in price and will become more popular.

He adds that currently solar power meets a very small percentage of the world’s energy needs, and people tend to dismiss technologies when they are only a very small fraction of the total solution.

Crucially, he points out that if solar power doubles every 2 years, 8 more times, it will meet 100 percent of the world’s energy needs. Following that math, it will take 16 years, that’s 2027.

He adds that the world will increase its energy needs during that time too, so we should add another couple of times to double on top of that. So in about 20 years, around 2031, we will be meeting at least 100 percent of the world’s energy needs just with solar energy.

On the possible political obstacles involved, he says that as the cost per watt of solar falls significantly below coal and oil, people are going to change for economic reasons alone. It will cease to be a political issue.

What do you think of this scenario? Do you think this will come to fruition?

Via PBS
Image CC licensed by eschipul

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  • Stuart Angus

    I certainly hope so, I wish the Australian Gov would spend 10 or 12 billion on solar as that would create an instant industry here which would lead the world and create huge jobs/economical froth for our future.

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    That would be great to see. Taking some subsidies off fossil fuels such as coal might help with raising the money to invest.

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  • http://RussP.us Russ P.

     This Kurzweil prediction about solar power is nonsense. First of all, the sun only provides so much power per square meter, and you obviously cannot convert it at 100% efficiency — or even close, for that matter. Secondly, solar power is not particularly “green,” since it requires huge amounts of materials to generate the smallest amounts of power, and some of those materials are toxic.

    If you want to know about the real “green” energy, check out thorium-based nuclear power at http://RussP.us/thorium.htm

  • http://RussP.us Russ P.

     This Kurzweil prediction about solar power is nonsense. First of all, the sun only provides so much power per square meter, and you obviously cannot convert it at 100% efficiency — or even close, for that matter. Secondly, solar power is not particularly “green,” since it requires huge amounts of materials to generate the smallest amounts of power, and some of those materials are toxic.

    If you want to know about the real “green” energy, check out thorium-based nuclear power at http://RussP.us/thorium.htm

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    Surely you wouldn’t need to convent at anywhere near 100% efficiency to reach the level he is talking about? The higher the better of course, and there’s plenty of room upwards as far as efficiency goes. He’s talking about capacity as well as efficiency.

    I certainly take your point about nonrenewable materials being used to build solar panels. Everything as some sort of environmental impact.

  • Russ P.

    The problem with Kurzweil’s projection is that the growth of solar power has been heavily subsidized by the government. It is not a natural market-driven growth.

    Have you heard about that company in California that Obama touted as “the future.” I can’t remember thier name offhand, but they went bankrupt after being being handed a gift of $500M by the gov’t. Rush was all over it the other day.

  • http://twitter.com/CoalPortal CoalPortal

    The use of sophisticated software systems for coal mining that is mostly burnt for power generation and steel production and adds to the greenhouse effect is valid for western countries who may allocate resources and funds to alternative and more greener sources of power. Some of the alternatives may be “safer” than the traditional mines. Unfortunately, coal statistics show developing economies are more likely to increase their use of thermal coal & metallurgical coal in coming years because of its affordability and to meet increasing demands for electricity and steel. Whether they will embrace and utilise sophisticated software systems that no doubt add to the cost of production is yet to be seen. Cherry of http://www.coalportal.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000904704571 Andrew Fink

    first those toxic materials can be recycled second the internet was also subsidized 3rd all energy sources are subsidized heavily most more then solar nuclear probably recevies the most since the gov helps clean their shit up also solar is one of the least subsidize of all the energy sources and only recentley has it been getting subsidies 3rd obama knew that it was going to fail because it had a terrible buissness plan he just invested in it because one of obamas campaign donaters had invested heavily in that company also vote ron paul and the future is probably solar P.S english is not my first language sorry ALSO in one 24hour cycle 10,000 times more enrgy then we need from the sun hits the earths surface we would probably only need 80% or mabye less then that to beat oil it also depends on how long the panels last and how much they cost to produce and one last edit i also used to back thorium for years and then i got schooled by my physics proffesor

  • http://twitter.com/SBirchwood1223 Seanna Birchwood

    He’s not saying they will be able to convert solar energy with 100% efficiency. He is saying that it will meet 100% of the energy demands.

  • Lofty

    Its never good to waist tax dollars but if you look at military spending or the money that China has invested in renewable energy its a drop in the bucket. 

    As the cost of electricity continues to rise faster than inflation solar is becoming a very real source of energy. A $200 bill today is projecting to be over $400 in 20 years. If you went solar today the system would pay itself off in 15-20 years and would still have a warrantied lifespan of 5-10 more years. The value of the energy produced from the system for the last 5-10 years of the panels lifespan should be around 100% of the initial investment. 

    When the economy really starts to improve we’re going to see energy rates jump due to aging infrastructure that needs to be upgraded by utilities. This work has been put off but will need to be addressed soon. When this happens the cost is going to be passed to the consumer and were going to be paying a tonne on our electricity bills.    

    Switching to solar is about locking in your energy rate and not be subjected to rising utility prices.

    The mainstream anti-solar crowd are similar to ‘flat earthers’ who could not fathom the earth being round.     

  • http://www.the9billion.com/ John Johnston

    That doesn’t hold up. Fossil fuels still get huge subsidies after over 100 years, so what should happen there to level the playing field?

    Kurzweil also projects that subsidies won’t be needed as costs of solar drop and the tech advances. That company you are talking about is Solyndra. It’s certainly debatable whether govt money should be trying to pick winners, but in terms of capitalism, there will be winners and losers, just like in other tech areas, and business in general.

  • C Smith

    It will happen if solar installations continue on the current trajectory, which has not been interrupted by the global economic downturn, the collapse of Solyndra, cheap natural gas or intense skepticism from certain quarters. Prices continue to decline at a rapid pace and new technologies will be deployed within the next few years that will result in cheaper, better, and more efficient solar cells. It’s the same concept that brought us from the Apple IIC to the iPhone.

  • Russ P.

    Solar power is not particularly clean. In fact, it’s really not clean at all. If you want clean energy, take a look at thorium-based nuclear power (http://RussP.us/thorium.htm). Imagine four quarters in your hand. That amount of thorium can produce all the energy you will need for your entire lifetime. That’s orders of magnitude cleaner than solar. China, japan, and South Africa are pusuing this aggressively folks. Let’s not get left behind chasing the solar boondoggle.

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