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.
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.