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Photovoltaics follow Moore’s Law

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Photovoltaic module price per watt, 2006 dollars

Photovoltaics follow Moore’s Law from David Leppik.

Most things – not just technology – follow a version 2 of Moore’s law, which is to say that advancement happens with a compounded rate, for example the number series that children like: 2+2 = 4, 4+4=8, 8+8 = 16 … 32, 64, 128, … plot this and you will see a rapid growth curve.

The same is  true for photovoltaic solar panels, the ones that convert the rays of the sun to electric energy, mostly due to advancements in nano-technology.

In 2008, David Leppik argued with his data analysis that the $1 mark will not be reached until post 2020. Moore’s law surprised us and in 2009, the mark was reached (note how progress went the wrong way from 2004 to 2008 in the graph). A quantum leap happened in 2009: “First Solar Passes $1 Per Watt Industry Milestone”

This is important for the future of the world, because there is a tipping point when oil is no longer relevant: the day that the price per watt from oil is more expensive than a convenient substitute. And that happens at about $1. The dream of fusion power is already real: it just happens to be a real big fusion power plant called the sun, that is the reality. Our job is to tap the radiation it sends our way, smiling at us.

The first change is to connect solar photovoltaic power to the utility network grid. That has happened on experimental ways for a long time now. Ones it is a feasible technology, political change won’t be that hard to imagine: after all, who really thinks it is very smart to be dependent on far-away countries ruled by … not so democratic leaders.

Energy is THE source of our productivity. Without it, everything comes to a grinding halt immediately. And with cheaper energy comes revolution.

It will be in our lifetime that energy is no longer a cost nor an environmental issue. It will bring about changes that we cannot imagine; because the cost per watt, with Moore’s law in mind, all things considered will go towards zero, since the sun is an eternal energy source (OK the sun explodes in about 5 million years and becomes a giant red star, but hey, don’t worry). The energy density of the suns rays are so powerful that with existing technology today, the efficiency is min. 20% of incoming energy to electric energy in solar panels. If the Sahara desert was converted to one big solar power plant, it would be capable of powering the worlds TOTAL energy consumption 18 times (barrels of petroleum, cubic meters of natural gas, watts of hydro power, etc.).

Map from Land Art.

Think industrial revolution. It was all about tapping into coal via steam, which made chemical power into mechanical power for cheap. The revolution was not only one which created wealth, higher standard of living – but it also sparked a political revolution, which eventually got rid of feudalism and archaic aristocratic rule. Finally it empowered the building of new tools and technologies, which again gave rise to new technologies, which again… 2+2 = 4, 4+4=8 …

We are at a very very important tipping point.

The next major advancement needed to substitute our existing energy sources with solar power, is battery technology. I will write about that later on, but for now please note a couple of keywords: Ford is producing electric vehicles aggressively, Audi, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Daimler are equally doing just that. Obama is subsidizing battery technology startups and corporate programs aggressively as part of stimulus plan. Part of his plan is that America shall be the leading nation on all things solar in the future.

More interesting background:

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Written by Bernino Lind

October 1, 2009 at 11:43 am