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The Solar Singularity Is Nigh

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“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” quipped Yogi Berra. I keep his wise admonition in mind as I make predictions about our energy future, but we have many reasons for optimism when it comes to the future growth of solar power.

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Here’s the summary: solar is taking over. We can now see many years into the future when it comes to energy, and that future is primarily solar-powered. Why my optimism? Well, let me explain.

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The “solar singularity” will, by my definition, occur when solar prices become so cheap that solar becomes the default power source based on cost alone and without subsidies. We aren’t there yet but we’re probably just a few years away from that point, particularly since we’re seeing energy storage costs declining significantly already. (I’m not going to address storage in this article further but, of course, a grid can’t run on variable solar power alone so we’ll need storage and other backup technologies to ensure reliable grids as solar power penetration grows).

Swanson’s Law, named after the founder of SunPower, a large American manufacturer of solar panels, states that the price of solar panels generally drops by 20 percent with every doubling of shipped panels. This has been the general trend since solar became a viable technology — hence its designation as a “law,” even though there are times when some deviations from the trend take place. For example, from the mid-1990s until 2008 solar costs declined by relatively small amounts, primarily due to stubbornly high silicon prices in a backdrop of increasing commodity prices across many markets, until the crash of 2008. Since 2008, however, panel cost declines have accelerated and the general trend is now back and then some.

When we compare recent cost declines for solar to other energy prices we get a pretty picture indeed and this is why solar is now getting very serious attention by investors and pundits alike.

REN21, a nonprofit organization, releases an annual report on the global status of renewable energy. Their 2014 report showed a phenomenal 39 percent growth in solar power, with 39 gigawatts added. REN21 haven’t released their figures for 2014 yet but we can expect similar figures for 2014 to those we saw in 2013. It must be satisfying for Swanson to see his predictions come true in spades. When he wrote his 2006 paper, global solar installations were only about 5 gigawatts. We are now, in early 2015, at almost 200 gigawatts, about forty times the installations in 2006, with prices declining much as he predicted.

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Figure 1. Global solar power growth through 2013 (source: REN21).

REN21 global solar growth through 2013

Total U.S. installations now stand at about 20 gigawatts, or 10 percent of the total and enough power for about four million U.S. homes. The U.S. was a latecomer to the global solar party, but with 2014 installations at about six gigawatts the U.S. is now back at the top of the heap in terms of largest markets for solar.

What About Subsidies?

Subsidies have been a big part of getting solar to where it is today but subsidies are becoming increasingly unnecessary as solar prices plummet. This is additional good news. California’s residential and commercial solar rebate program (the California Solar Initiative or CSI) is all but gone as the rebates have been used up, and yet California’s retail solar market is still growing strongly.

On the wholesale side, the federal 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) is set to decline to 10 percent at the beginning of 2017. The conventional wisdom is that we’ll see a big drop in installations when this happens. However, a silver lining to the Republican-controlled Congress and their antipathy to green power is that there is little hope at this point that the 30 percent ITC will be extended.

tambookThis means, contrary to the similar discussion with respect to wind power’s tax credits over the last decade (they’ve expired a number of times, leading to a slowdown in installations for a year and then a rebound when the credit is renewed), there won’t be a slowdown in anticipation of an eventual renewal of the tax credit. We should see solar companies simply adjust to the lower tax benefit and keep on trucking.

SunPower, a major player in today’s markets, is already predicting little impact from the reduced ITC, based on the ability to develop profitable projects even with the reduced ITC of 10 percent.

James Smith, an investment analyst at Catapult Research, recently issued a very bullish report on solar, providing some good corroboration of my predictions here. He stated in his report, excerpted here: “I’m saying that if the cost of solar drops 20% in price every time the installed base doubles, it is only a matter of time before solar takes over from fossil fuels. My best guess is that it starts to really happen from 2017 onwards.”

Is The Past A Reliable Guide To The Future?

Making predictions (especially about the future) is difficult because there is no guarantee, of course, that the past is a reliable guide to the future. However, when it comes to solar power we see the very clear trend of price reductions continuing for some time because there are no inherent limits to further reductions. Jeremy Rifkin has made the case that solar panels will become practically free with zero marginal cost for production, in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society. As we’ll see below, this is a reasonable prediction.

Solar panels are not the only cost component for solar systems and they are increasingly becoming a minor cost because of ongoing panel cost reductions. The main components of overall costs are now soft costs like labor and the “balance of system” costs for equipment like inverters, racks and wiring. However, these other costs are also declining substantially and groups like GTM Research predict further major cost reductions.

The basis for my predictions is, however, quite simple: we have reached the point where low costs are driving installations higher, which in turn drives costs lower, which in turn drives installations higher… The virtuous circle seems to be locked in and based on history we can expect further 20 percent cost reductions with each doubling of capacity, with no inherent limit to cost reductions over time.

Under this trend, we can expect by 2020, under a 30 percent global rate of growth, to see total solar costs for utility-scale systems at around $0.84/watt, based on GTM Research’s projected $1.10/watt for 2017. By 2025, the cost drops to about $0.54/watt and by 2030 it will be a practically free cost of $0.34/watt. By 2040, we can expect under these trends to see costs at about 14 cents per watt. A five kilowatt home-size system costs at this price only $700.

That counts as free in my book because that system will provide power for about 25 years at almost no cost above that of the initial installation. 25 years of production for $700 equates to about 2.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. For comparison, the average retail cost of power in California today is about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, so this future cost of solar power will be less than 1/5th the cost of today’s power. And this analysis leaves out inflation. If we include inflation the comparison is even more favorable.

What Could Derail The Solar Singularity?

While I’m fairly confident in the coming solar singularity I’d be foolish not to recognize some inherent uncertainties about making such predictions. I’ll discuss a couple of the biggest uncertainties here.

The biggest source of uncertainty is the rate of growth in installations. In my calculations above I assumed a 30 percent rate of growth, which is reasonable given the far higher rates of growth we’ve seen in recent years (this results in approximately a 2.3-year doubling time). However, it is likely that we’ll see growth rates decline for a variety of reasons. If installations increase at only 20 percent per year we see about $0.54/watt by 2030 and $0.28/watt by 2040. At only 10 percent growth we see about $0.75/watt by 2030 and $0.56/watt by 2040. At these price and installation levels the singularity still arrives but it’s delayed.

The second biggest source of uncertainty is the degree to which there are fundamental limitations in how fast power generation fleets can turn over. Most power generation assets are financed (amortized) over the course of many years and these investments often require long power sales contracts to justify such investments. This means that a lot of the fleet is locked in contractually at any given time. If a ton of solar is installed in any particular grid system the threat of “stranded costs” — costs that are at risk of not being recovered due to under-utilization or an early shut down — becomes high.

We’ll see how the stranded cost issue shakes out in each country but there is good reason to believe that even if some grids see a slow-down in solar installations because of concerns about stranded costs, or other problems, that other countries will take up the slack and the general global trend of ever-increasing solar will continue apace.

One issue that I don’t think will be a real problem in the next couple of decades is lack of space for new solar. For all practical purposes, the space for installing solar around the world is infinite. We’ll run out of power demand long before we’ll run out of space for solar. As costs plummet for solar, more and more countries will see it become economically viable and more and more locations, such as roadways, areas over metro rail lines, etc., will be covered by panels.

In sum, we have some very good reasons to believe that the solar singularity is indeed nigh. What does a world of free or practically free energy look like? That is a topic for another column.

Tam Hunt’s new book, The Solar Singularity: Why Our Energy Future Is So Bright, will be released later this year. 

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Scientists Propose That We Can Travel Faster Than The Speed of Light

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CE Staff Writer 5 minute read

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A new paper suggest travel faster than the speed of light might be possible given the creation of a new way of looking at propelling a vehicle.

  • Reflect On:

    When considering the advancement of life changing technology, does our current economic model speed up or suppress the collaboration, creation and advancement of ideas?

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In Star Trek Gene Roddenberry imagined it possible to set a ship into ‘warp drive’ and travel at speeds 6000+ times the speed of light, moving from one galaxy to a distant one very quickly. Imagine having that type of technology here on earth?! It has been said before that if we can think it, we can create it. Well, maybe that’s sometimes true.

What Happened:

The question of whether travel faster than the speed of light is possible was again approached in a new research paper written by an American physicist Erik Lentz. In the paper Lentz proposed a new theory for how faster-than-light travel could be possible. Given their models, Lentz and his team feel that travel to distant stars and planets could be possible in the near future, perhaps with proper research and development they could have something working in as little as 10 years.

The question of whether this is possible does not challenge our current understanding of physics that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity sets forth that it is not possible to travel faster than light.

Instead of focusing on our current understanding of matter, Lentz’s new paper puts greater importance on a possible engineering solution as opposed to the theoretical physics. The new paper was published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.

The paper proposes a plan to travel faster than light by creating a series of ‘solitons’ to provide the basis for propulsion. A soliton is a compact wave that keeps its speed and shape while moving with little loss of energy.

Interestingly, this technology would allow travel at ANY speed. This brings me back to an article I wrote yesterday discussing the incoming reality within collective consciousness that UFOs and Extraterrestrials are real. In that article I state that the question of ‘how are they getting here’ is of importance as it could give humanity access to technology that would completely change the way we live on this planet.

 [The method] “uses the very structure of space and time arranged in a soliton to provide a solution to faster-than-light travel,” From the press release.

Imagine this, the nearest star beyond our solar system is called Proxima Centauri. We know it to be about 4.25 light years away. (A light year is the distance it takes light to travel in one year.)

Lentz stated that using our current rocket fuel methods fo travel, it would take about 50,000 to 70,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri. If we were to upgrade to nuclear propulsion technology, it would take about 100 years. But if we employed a light speed warp drive, it would take only four years and three months.

This would mean that the average person would be able to travel to distant interstellar planets and complete the trip in a current human lifetime. Think of the vacations!

According to Lentz there are some barriers to making this all work, but they aren’t impossible to surpass. For the tech to work, it would require lowering the energy needed down to the level of modern nuclear power reactors. That is if we don’t take into consideration energy technologies that are currently suppressed. Lentz also stated that what would be needed is a  way to develop and speed up the solitons (waves.)

“This work has moved the problem of faster-than-light travel one step away from theoretical research in fundamental physics and closer to engineering,”

Why Its Matters:

Humans are curious beings who seem to gain a great deal from expanding our curiosity beyond everyday plights of a system and way of life that doesn’t necessarily inspire the deepest use of our creativity. Perhaps a knowing that we can indeed go elsewhere without primitive technology would shift the way we see our role on this earth and how we choose to fight over what we believe are limited resources.

Then again, perhaps if humans carry their current story of separation and competition to other worlds, we’ll produce the same mess there. I guess the question is, would the possibility of being able to leave this earth and go almost anywhere change the underlying nature of how we choose to set up our cultural beliefs and narratives of what it means to be human?

It’s my feeling that humanity does not lack the solutions to live in a thriving world, we lack the worldview and state of being. Both of which we could change with a little effort.

The Takeaway:

When I hear research like this I am fascinated. Then again I also sometimes wonder if all scientists around the world saw the technology I have seen first hand, that completely changes the way we perceive energy generation today, would the way we look at creating technology that requires energy change entirely? Yes, of course it would.

In my mind and heart I see a world of true collaboration and curiosity. One where we aren’t competing to see who’s the greatest scientist with the best copy written tech, but a world where we transparently share what is out there to advance the entire human race. No powerful interests suppressing technology because it’s too threatening to an economy, but instead true open advancement where we can solve problems incredibly fast.

Can you imagine this world?

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What Causes Déjà Vu? The Neuroscience Behind The Memory Illusion

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CE Staff Writer 5 minute read

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Current explanations from the field of neuroscience suggest that déjà vu occurs when the brain is slightly fatigued and working to 'fact check' a memory. We experience this as being odd because we become aware of the process.

  • Reflect On:

    Might we explore a different explanation for déjà vu if we were looking at it from the standpoint of time being non linear and perhaps opening up to the idea of a collective consciousness?

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They say about 60% of people experience déjà vu during their life, right off the bat that hit me as something I didn’t expect as I feel like almost everyone I know has had it at one time or another. Déjà vu, (‘already seen’ to the French) is the feeling that you are re-living something that has happened before. In the movie The Matrix, where déjà vu is perhaps most thought of in pop culture, Neo experiences a cat going by a doorway twice in a matter of seconds. Same cat, same moves, same everything.

In the film, this moment is presented as a ‘glitch in the matrix,’ however, in real life, déjà vu doesn’t often happen like what is seen in The Matrix, it instead feels as though you can’t recall when the ‘other memory’ happened, more so that what you are experiencing right now has already happened at some time.

Let’s dive into what some believe neuroscience is offering as an explanation.

What Happened:

According to experts like Dr Akira O’Connor, who is a senior psychology lecturer at the University of St Andrews, déjà vu is not only a feeling of familiarity, but also the metacognitive recognition that these feelings are misplaced. In simple terms:

“Déjà vu is basically a conflict between the sensation of familiarity and the awareness that the familiarity is incorrect. And it’s the awareness that you’re being tricked that makes déjà vu so unique compared to other memory events.”

Neuroscientists have determined that this memory illusion occurs when the frontal regions of the brain are attempting to correct an inaccurate memory.

“For the vast majority of people, experiencing déjà vu is probably a good thing. It’s a sign that the fact-checking brain regions are working well, preventing you from misremembering events. In a healthy person, such misremembering is going to happen every day. This is to be expected because your memory involves millions and billions of neurones. It’s very messy.”

While there isn’t a completely agreed upon explanation for what happens in the brain when déjà vu occurs, most models suggest that déjà vu occurs when areas of the brain (such as the temporal lobe) feed the mind’s frontal regions signals that a past experience is repeating itself. The frontal decision making parts of the brain then checks to see if the memory is actually true or possible, perhaps saying something to the effect “have I been here before?”

“If you have actually been in that place before, you may try harder to retrieve more memories. If not, a déjà vu realization can occur.”

It’s typically believed that we are more susceptible to déjà vu when the mind is a bit more fatigued and not as quick to discern that validity of our current moment.

Why It Matters:

What fascinated me about this in particular is two things: I’ve long felt that it’s quite possible that memories may actually be non local, i.e. they exist outside the brain not in the brain, and that perhaps the brain tunes into those memories that are somewhere around us. Or maybe we could say that some memory may exist in the brain, while others are part of some sort of collective field.

The second fascinating part for me is that I wonder if déjà vu has something to do with emerging science that tells us time is not linear. Perhaps when we take a classic scientific model that states all time is linear and all experience is linear, we limit our explanation of what déjà vu might be to something that fits that paradigm. What if the brain is tuning into something relating to quantum potentials that always exist, and that perhaps something different is happening with déjà vu? I’m not sure yet, however this is where déjà vu intrigues me the most.

Of course, the end result of exploring a question like this invites us to shift our worldview around the nature of reality, time and experience. Something that might be uncomfortable for some but I feel post material science is inviting us to do.

The Takeaway:

As with anything that is happening in our lives right now it seems, we are culturally in a time where a long avoided shift in our scientific paradigm is creating a lack of meaningful explanations for many things that happen in life. Is déjà vu one of those things that doesn’t have a good explanation in our current scientific paradigm? The jury might still be out on that, but for me, the current explanation presented in this piece did not quite ‘do it for me’ and my inquisitive mind and gut feeling pushes me to explore these questions through the emerging paradigm of non material science.

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These Anti-Solar Panels Don’t Require Daylight To Generate Power

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CE Staff Writer 7 minute read

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A new approach to solar panels attempts to generate energy during the night, when there is no sunlight to turn into energy. This new invention could make solar a more efficient and reliable option for energy generation.

  • Reflect On:

    Are we being made aware of all energy technologies that truly exist out there? Are our ideas of what energy technologies we could create and bring to market limited on the belief that they must fit inside our existing economic structures?

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Energy is one of the most important elements to any functioning society, and since our modern era of living uses so much power, the industry is always looking to evolve towards newer and more efficient solutions. Furthermore, given the environmental damage that often comes with many of our modern energy generation practices, people have been thinking outside the box to come up with ideas that are harmonious with mother nature.

Solar panel technology has been around for decades, but there are a few main issues with it. First off, you often need sunlight for it to produce enough on demand and stored energy for daily life. There are many areas in the world where that can be an issue in certain seasons. Secondly, during the night energy can’t be gathered so you’re always dealing with a limited time period where you can generate power for the moment or future use. This prompted inventors to imagine a new “anti-solar panel” that is designed to work both during the day and at night.

Typical solar panels work by gathering visible light from the sun and converting it to usable electricity. This energy can be used as it’s created, or it can be stored into battery cells to be used at a later time. That is to say, it might be a sunny day, you and your family are at work so little power is needed at home. When you return home and you need power,  batteries hooked up to your solar panel had been storing the energy collected from the sun during the day, so it’s ready for you to use once you need it even if the sun isn’t out.

No sun for a couple days while your family is at home for the weekend? Well, you can start to see the issues with solar, you might run out of power if you aren’t connected to a standard city power grid as backup.

But now a team at UC Davis is hoping to develop a new strategy relying on having panels that can also generate electricity at night from heat emitted by a device in the infrared spectrum that is used to generate power.

Jeremy Munday, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and who leads the research team:

“In order to produce electrical power after the sun has set, we consider an alternative photovoltaic concept that uses the earth as a heat source and the night sky as a heat sink, resulting in a “nighttime photovoltaic cell” that employs thermoradiative photovoltaics and concepts from the advancing field of radiative cooling.”

They also explain in another report:

We were thinking, what if we took one of these (thermoradiative) devices and put it in a warm area and pointed it at the sky? A regular solar cell generates power by absorbing sunlight, which causes a voltage to appear across the device and for current to flow, (but) in these new devices, light is instead emitted and the current and voltage go in the opposite direction, but you still generate power. You have to use different materials, but the physics is the same.”

It’s not yet known how much power this technology might produce, but at this time the UC Davis team estimates perhaps as much as 50W during the night. This is about one quarter of the amount a typical solar panel might produce during the day. While this isn’t a huge amount, one could argue it’s worth it.

But what happens if we think outside the box a little further?

Breakthrough Energy

At Collective Evolution we have been exploring new energy technologies for many years, and have had a few close relationships with several investors who have truly been thinking outside the box. This has provided us with an inside look at what technologies are out there beyond what most people commonly speak about in the realm of renewables.

I’m talking about technologies that would deeply disrupt our current energy economy and that could provide energy to anyone, at anytime and in a completely clean manner.

Many believe these types of “breakthrough” technologies are nothing more than unicorns – they aren’t real. They believe them to be elaborate hoaxes that only show up online and in YouTube videos. And this is fair to say. There have been may hoaxes, including inventors who didn’t quite have what they had claimed, however, some of these technologies are real and work exactly as claimed.

“I started to examine the breakthrough solutions, and much to my surprise, these concepts have been proven in hundreds of laboratories throughout the world, and yet they have not really seen the light of day. If the new energy technologies were to be set free worldwide, the change be profound, it would affect everybody, it would be applicable everywhere. These technologies are absolutely the most important thing that’s happened in the history of the world.”  – Dr Brian O’Leary, Former NASA Astronaut and Princeton Physics Professor

In our research we came across a device local to us here in Toronto and had the opportunity to see it functioning first hand. We were there alongside a group of third party investors and engineers who were eager to see the technology in action and understand how it functions. Unfortunately for this piece, the NDA we had signed stops me from saying too much more about the specifics, however you can decide whether or not you believe my word that, yes, this technology was very real, worked to produce multiple kilowatts of power, and had the potential to change the way you view energy generation entirely.

We have also explored technologies our friends and colleagues have vetted as well. One of our latest ones from a man in Zimbabwe who invented a power generation system that charges itself via radio frequencies around the device. A truly remarkable idea, one you have to see to believe.

Another friend and colleague of ours, Susan Manewich, has been working to bring these technologies to market for years. Her and her team have travelled around the world vetting various technologies and working with inventors to find viable ways of making their technologies available for mass use. In her travels she has seen that only a small percentage of claims and devices are real and viable, perhaps only 5%. As low at that sounds, it still shows us that there are in fact devices that would completely revolutionize the way we produce and use energy today and yet these devices are not known about and in many cases hidden purposefully from the public.

We talk about this with Susan in great detail during an interview with we did with her as she shares her insight and experience having worked in the ‘new energy’ industry for many years. Dive into this important conversation on CETV here.

The Takeaway

Imagine what a society would look like if we had ‘freed’ up the secrecy behind the existence of these breakthrough energy technologies. Do you see humanity thriving? Do you see energy being free of charge for people? If not, do you feel humanity’s existing worldview i.e. competition, separation, etc, might be a barrier to these technologies being used to liberate the way we live?

Finally, if it is humanity’s worldview and belief that we must all compete with one another that gets in the way, does it suggest we might need to go about re-examining our worldview’s in order to live in a more peaceful and harmonious society? It appears as though the solutions are already all here, but the way we think of ourselves and one another deeply holds back a thriving world.

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