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A Moore’s Law for energy?

Earlier this week I was at the premiere of Transcendent Man, a biographical overview of Ray Kurzweil’s views on the coming Singularity. Kurzweil’s main argument is that the power of the exponential in technology is major, systemic, and underappreciated.

The specific item of interest in this post is Kurzweil’s claim, repeated in the movie, that solar energy is on a Moore’s Law-like curve with a power/$ doubling time of two years:

The crossover of the tipping point where solar energy will be less expensive than fossil fuels in almost every situation is within five years.

This DOE graph says basically the same thing:
DOE solar price curves
The knee of the curve is from now to 2015. However, the graph understates the possibilities significantly, since it implies about a 7% price-drop rate.

Now people have been saying such things for years, and are still saying them, but the most recent news may be that the cost of PV solar may go down 30% this year.

This is not purely a silicon-based phenomenon. Organic PV is sneaking up on silicon. Current-day nanotech is helping. Indeed nanotech in photovoltaics can pretty much be considered a whole field of its own nowadays.

I don’t know if a 30% annual decline in PV can be sustained, but if so, Kurzweil is clearly right, and the first common assumption that nanotech clearly invalidates, as listed in Unbounding the Future, will be

“Solar energy will never become really inexpensive.”

7 Responses to “A Moore’s Law for energy?”

  1. Says:

    “Solar energy will never become really inexpensive.” Yeah! I guess unless you call free not really inexpensive… Wait til you can spray on nano-solar paint to collect all the energy you need for our business, your home, your car, your phone, your computer, the roads, etc.

  2. Says:

    I wish more nanotech people would recognize the reality of energy from the plenum of space, instead of sweeping it under the rug with the blanket statement “Crank”. The active “vacuum” of space itself is not empty but is full of oscillating waves of energy that can be harnessed, especially using nanotech devices like nature does. This energy explains the anomalous excess heat and power and transmutation productions of so called “cold fusion” and also explains such things as gamma ray bursters. Nanotech Assemblers plus this “ether” energy = massive material abundance for all mankind.

    PS I do understand however why some nanotech researchers don’t discuss the ‘vacuum’ energy, for fear of being labeled “crackpots”.

  3. Says:

    Remember that over time, more and more industries become IT industries, and thus get pegged to Moore’s Law.

    First calculation, word processing, audio, video, photography, etc. became IT industries. Now medicine, energy, manufacturing, and astronomical observation will also become IT industries.

    The Impact of Computing mandates it.

  4. Says:

    The 30% decline is just this year due to a panel glut on account of a soft economy.

    It will not be 30% every year. The trendline is 5-7% declines a year, which is still good enough to achieve coal-parity by 2015.

  5. Says:

    Yes, even without the more exotic forms of energy like “vacuum” or “cold fusion”, conventional alternatives like cheap solar foil electric converters will be equal to or better than fossil fuels with nanotechnology in the next coming years.

    I think Drexler and others may have calculated this but has anyone calculated how much energy it would take to say assemble a cubic foot of diamondoid like material from basic molecular parts or atoms themselves? One guy said to me “Nanomachines will be very energy thirsty” and he tried to claim it would take nuclear fusion level power to power assemblers. I disagree. Natural assemblers make use of sunlight, and nanomachines can make use of sunlight, hydrogen fuel, and the rest. SUBATOMIC motions would require larger energies, I am sure, but, for molecular manufacturing the sun and chemicals can do it.

  6. Says:

    The comment that “organic PV is sneaking up on silicon” make me think of the numerous predictions that the hard disk drive technology is coming to an end. For sure it will at some time, but like many leading technologies HDDs have had plenty of aces to play and have extended their life significantly. I suspect silicon based solar energy is the main road for quite some time yet. The common mistake seems to be that all contending technologies seem to think they are catching up to the current level of silicon within a few years, while forgetting that silicon based technologies by that time will have moved significantly ahead – maybe even broadening the gap. But by all means, contending technologies are needed both to fill niche areas and to push for the great leaps. I’m just going to keep my money on silicon for now, and then we’ll see in a few years time :)

  7. FP Says:

    Yea the 30% this is year is because of “panel glut” then it will go back to 7% then some nano technology will make 80% one year and 50% the next year and soon we will have breakthrough after breakthrough after breakthrough… The first 30 yrs were all silicon based PV’s. get ready for the thin stuff!

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