Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil said recently that solar power will be widespread and nearly free in about twenty years. Kurzweil is currently the Director of Engineering at Google, so he certainly is someone to be reckoned with.
One of his main points is that solar power use has doubled every two years for the last thirty years. Based on this trend, he says that it will only take about fourteen years before solar power will be capable of meeting all of our energy needs.
The Washington Post made the case a little more solid by pointing out the cell phones were once believed to be a niche market, and yet today they are everywhere, “There were more than 100 million cellular phones in use 2000; there are billions now. Costs have fallen so far that even the poor — all over world — can afford a cellular phone.”
More to the point as it concerns energy usage, in 1900 oil and gas only accounted for 5% of America’s energy. Coal and wood provided about 95% of it. By 1950, there were 18 million customers in the US using natural gas. Of course, oil and gas use became common, but they were rarely used at one point.
Currently, about 1% of US electricity is generated by solar power. If America is at such a tiny percentage of its electricity generation from solar power, isn’t it unlikely that the whole world could be solar in twenty years?
The US isn’t a good example, because other countries are doing better. Germany, for example, hit 50% solar power in June of 2014.
“The large amounts of solar electricity being generated demonstrate clearly that Germany will need more energy storage capacity in the future. Already, more than 1.4 million photovoltaic systems are producing a surplus, especially on sunny days around midday,” explained said Tobias Rothacher.
Even though solar power in America is lagging behind, it still has grown 400% in the last four years.
The lack of storage for solar power is one of the issues that needs to be solved, but Germany has made advancements in energy storage as well, albeit from wind power. These kinds of utility-scale battery systems can be used for solar power too though.
Italy too, is very far ahead of the United States in solar power production.
So, if we used the US as an example of solar power viability, it’s true that solar power would not appear to be a great bet. The US is often a technology leader, but in the case of solar power this is not the case.
Other parts of the world are doing better, including China. If the US can catch up, even to Italy, the world’s solar power future might seem more favorable.
Image Credit: Michael Lutch