Solar power will scale up to meet all the energy needs of Earth's people in 20 years, according to according to Ray Kurzweill, inventor, futurist and member of a recent expert panel that examined the "grand challenges of the 21st century."
There is 10,000 times more sunlight than we need to meet 100% of our energy needs, Kurzweill says, and the technology needed for collecting and storing it is about to emerge as the field of solar energy is going to advance exponentially in accordance with Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns. That law yields a doubling of price performance in information technologies every year.
Kurzweil, author of "The Singularity Is Near" and "The Age of Intelligent Machines," worked on the solar energy solution with Google Co-Founder Larry Page as part of a panel of experts convened recently by the National Association of Engineers to address the 14 biggest challenges of the 21st century, including making solar energy more economical.
Solar and wind power currently supply about 1% of the world's energy needs, Kurzweil said, but advances in technology are about to expand with the introduction of nano-engineered materials for solar panels, making them far more efficient, lighter and easier to install. Google has invested substantially in companies pioneering these approaches.
Regardless of any one technology, members of the panel are "confident that we are not that far away from a tipping point where energy from solar will be [economically] competitive with fossil fuels," Kurzweil said, adding that it could happen within five years.
The reason why solar energy technologies will advance exponentially, Kurzweil added, is because it is an "information technology" (one for which we can measure the information content), and thereby subject to the Law of Accelerating Returns.
"We also see an exponential progression in the use of solar energy," he said. "It is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years." Read the complete story here.