The declining cost of solar power is one of the biggest reasons that the folks at Singularity University are optimistic about the future. You can see from the chart above that the cost of generating 1W has fallen below a dollar for the first time and is now or will soon be at grid parity (grid parity is the average cost of all inputs to the grid). Having reached grid parity the use of solar should soar and cost should fall further as more money is invested in the technology.
Every year the earth receives around 274 million gigawatt years of energy from the sun which is around 20,000 times the amount of energy we currently used – ergo we should be able to easily service all our energy requirements with solar. In fact energy could become so plentiful that the price starts falling towards $0. That would then enable many other wonderful things, including desalination plants which aren’t currently feasible due to high energy costs. Cheap energy and plentiful fresh water. Sounds good.
It’s not all straight forward of course. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into the research and product development which drives exponential curves like the one in the chart above, and the cost reduction curve for solar cells may come to a halt, although it’s hard to see how that would be anything other than temporary. The bigger problem is storage. The sun only shines at certain times of the day, and we need energy all day, including at night. That means we need significant advances in battery technology if solar is going to become our dominant energy source.
Nuclear and biofuels also hold out the potential to deliver plentiful cheap energy, so solar isn’t he only story in town. It’s just the most exciting.