Futurist and inventor, Ray Kurzweil, predicts that advances in nanotechnology will result in solar energy powering the world in just 16 years. The Big Think website recently interviewed him, and here is part of the editors’ summary:
[H]ow far away is solar from meeting 100% of the world’s energy needs? Eight doublings, says Kurzweil, which will take just 16 years. And supply is not an issue either, he adds: “After we double eight more times and we’re meeting all of the world’s energy needs through solar, we’ll be using 1 part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the earth. And we could put efficient solar farms on a few percent of the unused deserts of the world and meet all of our energy needs.”
So Kurzweil is an optimist. But should we believe him?
I say no for two simple reasons:
- He has no specific expertise in nanotechnology or solar technology; and
- it’s not obvious that any experts in the fields that he is making predictions in are similarly optimistic.
So why does he get so much attention with his pronouncements? I think it’s (at least in part) because people are desperate for hopeful news about the world and Kurzweil has the vague cache of being an inventor and futurist with some megatrend predictions under his belt that have largely come to pass.
But what support does he give for this recent claim? A pretty lame one: an extrapolation based on Moore’s Law. Here are the editors at Big Think again:
Just like computer processing speed—which doubles every 18 months in accordance with Moore’s law—the nanotechnology that drives innovations in solar power progresses exponentially, he says.
During his latest Big Think interview, Kurweil explained:
“Solar panels are coming down dramatically in cost per watt. And as a result of that, the total amount of solar energy is growing, not linearly, but exponentially. It’s doubling every 2 years and has been for 20 years. And again, it’s a very smooth curve. There’s all these arguments, subsidies and political battles and companies going bankrupt, they’re raising billions of dollars, but behind all that chaos is this very smooth progression.”
Why there would be any connection between the increases in computer processing speeds and nanotechnology advances (and how this relates directly to solar cells) is not explained.
Kurzweil is fun to read, but I think he’s mostly selling snake oil.