LiveScience | Solar power to rule in 20 years, futurists say

February 19, 2008

Source: LiveScience — February 19, 2008 | Robin Lloyd

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[...] Ray Kurzweil is part of distinguished panel of engineers that says solar power will scale up to produce all the energy needs of Earth’s people in 20 years. There is 10,000 times more sunlight than we need to meet 100 percent of our energy needs, he says, and the technology needed for collecting and storing it is about to emerge as the field of solar energy is going to advance exponentially in accordance with Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns. That law yields a doubling of price performance in information technologies every year.

Kurzweil worked on the solar energy solution with Google co-founder Larry Page as part of a panel of experts convened by the National Association of Engineers to address the 14 “grand challenges of the 21st century,” including making solar energy more economical. The panel’s findings were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

Solar to compete in five years | Solar and wind power currently supply about 1 percent of the world’s energy needs, Kurzweil said, but advances in technology are about to expand with the introduction of nano-engineered materials for solar panels, making them far more efficient, lighter and easier to install. Google has invested substantially in companies pioneering these approaches. Regardless of any one technology, members of the panel are “confident that we are not that far away from a tipping point where energy from solar will be [economically] competitive with fossil fuels,” Kurzweil said, adding that it could happen within five years.

The reason why solar energy technologies will advance exponentially, Kurzweil said, is because it is an “information technology” (one for which we can measure the information content), and thereby subject to the Law of Accelerating Returns.  ”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.”

Other technologies that will help are solar concentrators made of parabolic mirrors that focus very large areas of sunlight onto a small collector or a small efficient steam turbine. The energy can be stored using nano-engineered fuel cells, Kurzweil said. “You could, for example, create hydrogen or hydrogen-based fuels from the energy produced by solar panels and then use that to create fuel for fuel cells, he said. There are already nano-engineered fuel cells, microscopic in size, that can be scaled up to store huge quantities of energy,” he said. [...]