A solar singularity is in the making and it will cause a giant explosion in the energy world.
What is a singularity? In the simplest terms it is a paradigm shift or a phase change. It completely transforms a given reality into something completely new.
A solar singularity occurs when solar power becomes cheaper than every other conventional means of generating power, thus creating solar as the default power source.
This singularity is already here in many countries. Solar power is cheaper without tax subsidies, even when compared to subsidized fossil fuels. We’re talking about direct subsidies as well as not attributing the real costs to fossil fuels of pollution, global warming and geopolitical costs. In India, for example, solar costs, as measured by power purchase agreement (PPA) prices offered by the unsubsidized private sector in the solar business, have already become cheaper than coal (4 cents per KWH). India has cancelled all its future coal generation plans citing the fact that solar is cheaper! That is over a billion tons of coal burning per year cancelled!
Solar power generation is, of course, intermittent – the sun doesn’t shine all the time. Batteries are needed for a steady power supply. A true singularity in solar energy needs to include the cost of storage batteries – it will occur when solar-plus-storage stand alone systems become cheaper than alternatives. This solar-plus-storage singularity is now approaching faster than anyone had predicted because of an exponential improvement in battery storage cost and supply. Battery costs have declined 70% in the last five years from $1000/KWH to about $300/KWH at a mass scale. The true solar singularity which includes utility scale solar generation and storage is estimated to occur when the battery costs drop to $100/KWH, most certainly by 2022, but probably mush sooner.
Why would anyone build a coal/natural gas or oil burning plant or a nuclear generating station any more?
There are four intertwined revolutions all related to the solar singularity: Solar PV’s, battery storage, electric vehicles and self-driving cars.
A GreenTech Media article by Tam Hunt states that:
Solar PV’s, battery storage, electric vehicles and self-driving cars together constitute the parallel and intertwined revolutions that are set to transform our energy system worldwide. These four technologies are developing exponentially. We can reasonably expect to see, by 2035 to 2040, a world powered predominantly with renewable electricity — not only homes and businesses, but also transportation and industrial processes.
This is way faster than predicted just a year ago. And I suspect that once the singularity is crossed the transformation might be even faster and startling to most prognosticators.
My projections for the four technologies reaching singularity:
Solar Power (generation alone): 2017
Solar generation + storage: 2020
Electric Cars: 2019
Autonomous Driving: 2022
Current solar demand projections by Greentech Media are shown below. You can see an exponential growth, but I think we will do far better than that.
Energy planners around the world are beginning to see the arrival of these singularities. Most countries are planning for a non-fossil-fuel economy by 2040. In Norway’s recent elections one party (the Liberals, who are now in a ruling coalition with the ultra conservatives) made a move to ban the exploration of gas and oil in the Arctic starting right now. The proposal is to leave all their Arctic oil/gas wealth in the ground!
In Germany, last March and April, over 80% of the electricity came from renewables. In the US we were at 10%. In India we are now generating 7% of its annual electricity from wind/solar with 33% predicted by 2022. China is on the fastest track of all countries – it is the largest producer of solar power and the fastest growing!
In California there is a push to legislate net-zero housing, i. e., community developments with net zero energy consumption. This is a law that requires all new housing to have 100% renewable energy or zero net consumption by 2020. In a recent article I read developers say that at a cost of just $8 per square foot a house can be completely energy self-sufficient, including a solar roof and batteries in a community network. This cost will come down dramatically with mandates and economies of scale.
What will all this mean? The solar singularity is an inevitability – a done deal. It is going to be more powerful than the Paris Accords and not even the current retrogressive policies pushed by the oil industry can change this fact.
Also published on Medium.
Why do you include self-driving cars as part of the solar singularity? I feel that they should be included more with the “AI singularity”. In fact if they came earlier than the solar singularity (unlikely), they could make the climate change problem worse, as many more miles will be driven.
Although, as you rightly say, self-driving cars are an AI revolution in technology terms, I believe it is very much part of the energy singularity. I don’t think self-driving will increase the number of miles driven – there will be more car sharing, route optimization etc. Also better energy efficiencies from learning algorithms and better freeway utilization and fewer accidents.
EV’s are better controlled electronically and therefore via computers than ICE’s. They are a natural ingredient of the self-driving, auto sharing paradigm. The Economist predicts that the number of new cars sold in America will drop from 17 million in 2016 to about 6.5 million when self-driving takes hold.
On another front EV’s consume 15% of the energy of ICE’s. The solar singularity needs transportation to go electric.
Thanks for writing. Ashok
Thanks ashok for the informative article. While reading it i also had the same question asked by Vinita: what self driving cars have to do with solar singulairity? Yes, that is part of AI. I am using solar tiles by Tesla as the roof for a new house to make it 100% energy self sufficient. Next big question is effect of solar singularity on jobs (create or disappear). Just combine the two singularities: solar and AI; and face a new music! A new social order!!😎
In the desert like Palmdale there is shade value in the parking lot saves electricity (summer) and
7 % line losses from the grid that seem to push solar ahead. LED lights are more efficient saving
about 20% (lights account for 20% electricity use). All these make the exponential changes real.