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Published on April 15th, 2016 | by Cynthia Shahan


Futurist Ray Kurzweil Predicts Solar Industry Dominance In 12 Years –Trajectories Are Exponential

April 15th, 2016 by  

How easy is it to be confused about the global transformation to renewable energy? For some clarification about solar energy, in particular, it is time to listen to futurist Ray Kurzweil explaining exponential growth and why he predicts solar industry dominance in 12 years. Remember those first huge, now historical and way too expensive, computers? Time flies, and society now bursts with tiny, affordable phones sporting computer systems. Things change.


As reported by Paul Dvorak, founding editor of Medical Design & Outsourcing, futurist Ray Kurzweil stimulated understanding of the subject of growth in the energy sector — in particular the growth of solar energy — in this recent talk. “Kurzweil began with the comment that technical developments form predictable trajectories, and those trajectories are exponential.”

SolarPowerWorld reports more of the Kurzweil predictions/explanation: “Consider the progress of the computing industry, he said. He spoke on his cell phone, which he said is several billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer he used as an undergraduate at MIT.”

“I went to MIT because it was so advanced that it actually had a computer in the late 1960s,” Kurzweil said. “It took up the floor of a building. Still, this cell phone is thousands of times more powerful, and million times less expensive. That’s a several billion-fold increase in price performance. It’s also a tiny fraction of the size.”

Kurzweil turned everyone’s focus to solar, mentioning that he and Google founder Larry Page were asked by the National Academy of Engineering to study emerging energy technologies. The men selected solar due to its exponential growth. Kurzweil said solar has been around for over 25 years, and its market share has doubled every 2 years.

“In 2012, solar panels were producing 0.5% of the world’s energy supply. Some people dismissed it, saying, ‘It’s a nice thing to do, but at a half percent, it’s a fringe player. That’s not going to solve the problem,’” Kurzweil said. “They were ignoring the exponential growth just as they ignored the exponential growth of the Internet and genome project. Half a percent is only eight doublings away from 100%.

“Now it is four years later, [and solar] has doubled twice again. Now solar panels produce 2% of the world’s energy, right on schedule. People dismiss it, ‘2%. Nice, but a fringe player.’ That ignores the exponential growth, which means it is only six doublings or [12] years from 100%.”

And of the sun … two years ago, Kurzweil responded to a question from the Prime Minister of Israel that went like this: “Ray, do we have enough sunlight to do this with a doubling seven more times?” Kurzweil” “Yes. After we double seven more times and meeting 100% of the world’s energy needs, we’ll still be using only one part in 10,000 of the sunlight that we have.”

That comment brings to mind this chart, which is a visualization of annual renewable energy potential from different renewable sources and total energy potential from total known fossil fuel reserves (from a handful of years ago):


Source: Perez & Perez, 2009a

“’It’s not true we’re running out of energy,’ Kurzweil said before moving on to another topic. ‘We’re only running out of resources if we stick with 19th-century technologies.’ ”

Zach talked about very similar matters in his presentation at an institutional investment conference in India in February:

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Top Image Credit: eschipul via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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About the Author

Cynthia Shahan is an organic farmer, licensed AP, anthropologist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

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