A few decades ago, at the advent of Silicon Valley and the IT revolution, the world began its course down Moore’s law, which states that the price performance of electronic components doubles roughly every 18 months. This was when computers took up whole buildings and the vast majority of the world would never expect to interact with one. Needless to say, it was a radical idea, but nobody really “got” what it really meant at the time.
One man, however, dared to ponder on the subject a little further. Alan Kay presented a simple, yet profound question about Moore’s Law that would turn out to be a foresight into the future of computing and enable the bulk of what we now refer to as the “knowledge economy.” The question was: What happens when computing become (nearly) free? The answer was that you could “waste” them! Silly things like, oh let’s say icons, portable devices and user interfaces that make computers easier to use, might become possible. After all, bits would be almost free. From that simple realization, we all know how the story follows afterwards: personal computing, cell phones, video animation, Apple, etc.
At the request of the federal government to look into the issue of energy, Larry Page (of Google fame) and Ray Kurzweil led a panel of thinkers who are foreseeing the same effect of Moore’s law being applied to solar energy. In a nutshell, they claim that since solar cells are essentially electronic components, they get cheaper and faster with time. According to their estimates, solar may be able to compete with oil as soon as 2016. If that’s the case, then maybe it would be appropriate to apply the Alan Kay question to the energy sector, the $6 trillion energy sector mind you.
When energy goes (nearly) free, the possibilities are truly limitless. Would we have the energy equivalent of the PC at the hands of every individual? Would manufacturing become personalized, meaning gadgets could be built by your own in-house Thing-o-matic once you download the instructions? On the political perspective, it may just be the biggest advancement for peace in the history of the world, given that oil, the most troubled resource we fight over today, would become obsolete. Hell, the field of economics might be readjusted to become a science of abundance as opposed to scarcity!
Just like in the 60s, when the world didn’t understand the implications of what Moore’s Law meant for computing, we now do the same thing for the advent of solar power. The average person sees the concept of solar panels on their homes as a foreign idea. There’s an incredible amount of resources poured over securing fossil fuels when we could instead seek to usher in this new era for the world. That being said, entrepreneurs are realizing that fact and eventually the market will pull a new global solar infrastructure into reality. Then the race down then price/performance curve will lead us into freedom…
I, for one, welcome our photovoltaic overlords.