Ray Kurzweil is known for inventing things, wanting to live forever, The Singularity and – of relevance in this article – Exponential Growth of technology, like solar power. Recently, during a medical device presentation, Kurzweil reiterated his predictions that solar power will continue to double its global capacity every two years and six more times in the next twelve years. Some charts look suspiciously like they’re shooting upward just ahead of his predicted pace. Personally, being in the field day to day, as a Project Developer, it is hard to believe that solar power might install such volumes in the next twelve years – but ten years ago, when I got into the industry, I never thought it’d grow like it has.
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If Kurweil’s six doubling comes to be – that’ll be 15,360GW of global capacity (compared to today’s 240GW – 98% growth) by 2027. If we’re going to have a grid heavily powered by solar power – expect employment and capacity growing pains soon. The US Solar Industry expects to grow 119% in 2016. My first and second installation teams are booked through early 2017. This is in an industry that has expanded by tens of thousands per year to 200,000+ at the end of 2015. We’re going to have to add 1,000,000 solar installers in those 12 years. That’s an intimidating volume of installations – and a $25 trillion global opportunity.
Not only are we going to have to scale our workforce – we’re also going to have to upgrade our power infrastructures. Many of these systems were (and are) built with turn of the century technology. However – it seems people are waking up (including the legislators). The Chinese are suggesting a global electricity grid. The US Senate just passed an energy bill that is going to invest key technologies needed for renewables – energy storage and a smarter grid. The US Department of Energy’s SunShot program is in constant attack mode – its most recent development grants going to ideas like:
- a distributed energy resource management platform that is adaptable to any region and market structure, aiming to establish a template that can help to maximize the penetration of distributed solar PV
- five utilities to design, develop, and demonstrate technology for end-to-end grid integration of energy storage and load management with PV generation
Innovation and investment like this will let us one day live off of solar power even when the sun is down.
Ray Kurzweil has had a lot of success in his life. I first read about him in a book called The Singularity. Ray pitched me on the intelligence of computers growing so far and so fast, that one day it’ll get beyond my comprehension. 15,000+ GW of Solar Power might be beyond my comprehension – but I’ve been wrong before.
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I’ve been saying the same thing. This is how exponential growth works – people are really bad at understanding it because they tend to think in terms of linear growth.
Right now, solar panels pay for themselves in 7-8 years. In 2 years, they’ll pay for themselves in 3-4 years. In 4 years, they’ll pay for themselves in 1-2 years. In 6 years, they’ll pay for themselves in a year or less. In 10 years, they’ll pay for themselves in a matter of months.
Unfortunately, my roof is shaded right now by a tree in my neighbors yard – there’s no way for me to go solar right now (at least not by installing solar on my property… I could buy solar power generated from someone else’s property, but I see little point. I’m mostly interested in it for cost and independence reasons – I don’t care about the environment factor.)
Are you just giving an example of exponential growth, or predicting that prices will halve every two years? Because, solar prices won’t be halving every two years, unfortunately. )
Solar does rely on proper roof orientation and shading, at least for most people (without 3-story flat roofs). I put panels on last year, for the same reasons you mentioned, and with the Tesla Model 3 already in mind. Right now I’m generating more than I’m using and the town doesn’t quite know how to handle it. But, they’re learning. 🙂
My house is 3-stories. The tree is taller – it pretty well shades the entire portion of the roof where I could otherwise install panels.
That tree causes me a lot of problems… it dumps all its leaves in my backyard in fall, and whenever we have wind storms, the branches come down in my backyard. But it grows on their side of the fence… it just leans over onto my side.
I wonder if I could legally cut down the portion above my lawn… I mean, I own everything up to 55 feet above the land on my property, right?
I believe you can remove branches that overhang your yard. My neighbor has done so with a tree of mine. Whether that will remove enough shade to make panels worthwhile is another issue.
What brand of tracker is this in the photo?
I believe it is an installation at Nellis Air Force base using SunPower Solar Modules. THe tracker I don’t know – but here are some good leads: http://www.bombardre.com/docs/default-source/default-document-library/nellis-case-study.pdf
I looked it up through a reverse google image search. John is right, this is a photo from the Nellis Solar Power Plant in Nevada. From the Wikipedia article:
Nellis consists of 5,821 tilted axis, T20 single axis trackers made by Sunpower, and uses 72,416 solar panels, each 200 watts, and 54 Xantrex (Schneider Electric) GT 250 inverters, each rated 250 kW. The maximum output is therefore inverter limited to 13.5 Megawatts (AC). At full output, the inverters are 96% efficient. Approximately 10% of the panels are mounted on North-South oriented horizontal single axis trackers. About one third of the solar panels were made by Suntech Power, the lead supplier.
This reminds me of chip tech, how it doubled every 2 years what they could fit on a chip.
India is poised to be the Saudi Arabia of solar.
Gloating aside, the Chinese idea of a global grid makes sense if the world is to increasingly depend on solar power. A global grid ensures that there is solar power being produced 24×7.
What percentage of total energy usage is 15000 GW?
15,000GW of solar power capacity will produce about 18,000,000GWh of electricity. The USA uses about 4,000,000GWh/year in electricity.
Electricity is about 39% of our total energy usage. If we could use that electricity in the other locations (not easy) we could power 100% of our ENERGY usage. We’d have to convert fully to electric cars and electric heating…we might increase our inefficiency on purpose. F0r instance, heating water with gas directly is a LOT MORE efficiency than doing it with electricity…unless the electricity has an economic and environmental cost of zero.