Updated: Thirty-Year Solar PV Forecast

Since writing my original long-term PV forecast, I’ve been doing additional research into PV futures and technology trends, along with reviewing analysis from both large mfrs-utilities and smaller advocacy groups. Allow me to update my forecast: By 2042, small photovoltaic (PV) electricity systems will cost less than $0.90/watt, installed and commissioned, which is equivalent to $0.02/kwh to $0.05/kwh, depending on geographic location. All costs expressed in 2012 dollars. All per-watt prices expressed as DC nameplate rating of panel or inverter. All “kwh” expressed as AC at the meter, after 0.73 derating from DC nameplate rating, shown as an annual average from a fixed-mount pointing south. Assuming 25-year warranted system life with 20% end-of-life PV panel derating. There is evidence that end-of-life performance will improve with newer generation panels, but this is not factored into my forecast. Moreover, most “25 year” systems will remain in operation much longer, making PV less expensive than this forecast. … Over the last 30 years, solar cell technology has halved its price-per-watt roughly every 7-8 years. Today, more capital than ever is being poured into PV research on all levels – academia, industry, government. Because of this and other strong market forces and indicators, it seems a reasonable assumption that PV technology will more or less follow its historical 30 year price trajectory into the next 30 years. If anything, affordability should accelerate. To keep a conservative forecast, I am assuming that PV panel price will halve every 12 years (not the historical 7 years) for the next 30 years, until reaching  a minimum cost-to-produce+profit of silicon, aluminum, glass. This gives us commodity solar panels at roughly $0.20/watt by 2042. Today, DC-AC central inversion is roughly 50 cents-per-watt. The preferred DC-AC micro inversion technology is around 80 cents-per-watt with 25 year warranty. Texas Instruments (et al) are moving towards total integration of micro-inversion components, leaving just a few externals. And those externals (filters, flybacks, caps, switching transistors, etc.) are being life-optimized and scaled. As more major players move into the micro-inv business (China, Korea, India, etc.), look for a continuous drop in price per watt. Being very familiar with power supply design and high efficiency manufacturing, I have a high confidence that integration and scaling will push installed micro inversion to under $0.20/watt by 2042 (if not far sooner, perhaps 2025-2030). Energy Secretary Steven Chu is forecasting central inversion at $0.10/watt. Commodity crystalline PV efficiency is around 15-16% today. PV research labs (Sharp, First Solar, etc.) have proven manufacturable efficiencies beyond 40%, but lab results have historically migrated slowly into real-world manufacturing. Historical 30-year PV efficiency has improved roughly 3% per year (1.03x per yr). To remain conservative, let’s assume that PV efficiencies will improve at just 2% per year over the next 30 years (keep in mind that, when looking at total PV system costs, “efficiency” is not nearly as important as cost-per-watt). A 2% per-year PV efficiency improvement gives us 30% efficient panels by 2042, effectively halving the number of physical panels and mounting structures required per site — lowering freight, installation, and job management costs to roughly $0.50/watt. For new construction and re-roof jobs, new generations of “integrated thin-film solar roofing” will bring combined costs down even further, while solar permit processes become more streamlined (my solar permit app was about 12 pages plus formally drawn plan set – Germany’s solar permit app is 2 pages + simple written description). Innovative PV leasing and financing will continue to grow, allowing solar power installation with zero customer investment. And if a business or homeowner self-contracts (far simpler in 2030-2040), installation cost drops even more. By 2042, this conservative forecast gives us: Panels: $0.20/watt Micro-Inversion: $0.20/watt Install, Mgmt, Profit: $0.50/watt Installed grid-tied PV systems at $0.90/watt puts us around $0.02/kwh in high sun areas (Las Vegas-Phoenix) and $0.05/kwh in weak solar areas (Seattle-Fairbanks) — all without rebates or other incentives. By 2042, the median U.S. cost to generate PV electricity becomes $0.035/kwh, which is roughly 1/3 the median U.S. rate of utility-delivered power. My research shows that U.S. coal-gas electric generation plants must sell electricity to the grid at roughly $0.06/kwh to remain profitable. The slope of this forecast suggests that median U.S. PV electricity may become cheaper to generate than median fossil electricity starting around 2030. Our remaining “night time and cloudy day” electricity will be increasingly on-grid from other renewable sources, such as hydro, wind, geothermal, marine, biomass, compressed air batteries, “common dirt” batteries, nano-batteries, vanadium redox batteries, vortex engines, infrared nano-thermal, atmospheric differential, 24-hour PV hybrids, hydrogen, solar funnels, efficient catalyzers, and so forth. And I’m confident that surprisingly new and disruptive energy generation and storage technologies will enter the picture over the next 30 years – technologies we cannot yet imagine! This historic and dramatic disconnect of electrical energy from fossils will change significantly the “power-utility company” model we know today. By 2042, on-site PV will no longer be receiving incentives, but will be paying a grid-use tax (grid maintenance tariff). The “grid dynamics” of renewable energy will require significant structural changes to the grid itself — no small challenge as power generation becomes increasingly distributed. By 2050-2060, the widespread economic shift to PV (et al) will likely leave fossil-nuke plants producing less than 40% of U.S. electricity (down from 85% today). And by 2070-2080, most of the industrialized world will be generating well over 80% of its electricity from renewable sources. Germany is now predicting 100% renewable by 2050, and California is mandating 33% renewable electricity by 2020 (realistically, I think California will achieve around 25% by 2020). In 2012, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) accounted for 46% of new electrical generating capacity installed in the USA. Very good news! Simplified graphs of my forecast: … Now the bad news. Cheap, clean, renewable electricity does NOT mean we will solve our energy problem by 2040-2060 (For reasons too lengthy for this post, I’m calling 2040-2060 “the hump”). The majority of world transportation is expected to run on fossil oil through 2040-2050. Fully 1/3 of U.S. energy demand is sourced from oil. One forecast puts 2032 as the year when hybrids+EVs outsell pure internal combustion automobiles, but globally there will still be over one-billion petrol-based vehicles and apps (cars, trucks, engines, aircraft, mfg stock, military, agriculture, derivative, etc.). Fossil oil demand has more or less peaked in the Western world. Exxon predicts that U.S. oil demand will drop 15% (20M b/d to 17M b/d) by 2040. On the other hand, the non-OECD industrializing world (India, China, etc.) is predicted to nearly double its oil demand over the next three decades, requiring an increase of worldwide oil production from 90M b/d to nearly 120M b/d by 2040. (It’s been noted that increased U.S. immigration could also spark a new population boom, re-kindling U.S. oil demand into 2040.) Many energy researchers (myself included) are not convinced that world oil production can (affordably) supply 120M b/d. As world oil demand ramps up, it’s not clear that emerging economies can support healthy economic growth while paying $150-200/bbl for oil (in 2012 dollars). Global industrialization occurred thanks to cheap, abundant oil ($20/bbl throughout most of the 20th century). Increasingly expensive oil will likely lead to growing economic stagnation and increasingly crippling global boom-bust cycles. A wild-card in our energy future is natural gas. Gas provides 1/4 of total U.S. energy demand. Fracking (etc.) is opening up vast new U.S. gas resources. How much is there? Estimates vary, but it could be significant enough to provide relatively cheap local NG for decades, especially as PV and other renewables displace NG-generated electricity. Any long-term energy forecast should allow for lower cost gas to assume some of oil’s historical roles (vehicle fuel, feed stock, etc.). On the other hand, large U.S. LNG export ports now being built will force U.S. NG to compete on a global market, pushing prices up to global parity. My gut sense is that, in the long term, cheaper North American NG will help offset U.S. oil demand, but will have little impact on a global scale. Energy giant Sasol is building a massive $20B NG-to-oil conversion plant (100,000 b/d) in Louisiana, betting that gas prices will stay low, and oil prices will keep rising. This project is the “…largest foreign manufacturing investment in the history of the United States.” I personally see North America becoming free from most OPEC oil by 2040, but domestic independence does not solve oil demand and depletion on a global level. Our domestic economy is inexorably linked to the global economy, and I suggest that oil will remain the #1 impediment to global growth for the next half century. … Looking past this conservative forecast, it’s my hope that PV achieves “median global grid parity” far sooner – say 2025 – and that the accelerating move to PV electricity will be a strong market signal towards rapidly prioritized electric mobility and storage research. Given the power of economics to change historical momenta, I would not be surprised to see pure electric vehicles by 2042 that outperform IC vehicles in every metric, including life-cost and range, with short charge times. For those requiring “fast fill” I would not be surprised to see the average 2042 “plug-in hybrid sedan” approaching 100 MPG, nor would I be surprised to see pure EVs with a small “emergency” fossil engine. … (Often overlooked in these discussions is the true social and environmental costs of carbon-based power. The complete cost of fossil energy is higher than its raw extraction and generation costs, even before considering any nightmarish greenhouse gas scenario. Depending on who you read, the social cost of atmospheric carbon is anywhere from $2 to $250 per ton. Let’s use the current U.S. Government estimate of $21/ton. We know that coal creates 2.1 pounds of CO2 per kwh. At $21/ton, coal’s social cost becomes $0.02/kwh. A growing number researchers say this cost should be closer to  

Plenty Of Oil

A very good two-minute animated overview of fossil energy and energy industry PR. Heinberg is spot-on. We’re not “running out” of oil. That is not, and has never been, peak-oil theory. It’s rather a supply and demand issue: extraction of “economically cheap” oil (as we enjoyed for 100+ years) is over. The cheap and abundant oil is gone and will never return (abiogenic theories notwithstanding). We are now entering into the “hard to get” oil phase (deep water, frack, oil sand, shale, polar, etc.) which comes at increasingly higher prices. As world energy demand increases, oil will continue to get more expensive. And that’s the problem: just a few years ago, energy represented less than 8% of median household expenditure. It is now around 13%. Health care and energy are the two most rapidly rising common costs in the U.S. economy, rising far faster than inflation. What Heinberg doesn’t mention is natural gas. In the USA, newly available (fracked) NG reserves will probably give us many additional years of cheaper NG energy (but with significant environmental penalties – see Julian Lennon’s new campaign — watch the video on his site). Newly fracked NG reserves have already caused a number of coal plants to be shuttered. This is great news for N. America, but in the global energy picture it doesn’t change much. We are still (as a global community) up against rising long-term fossil energy supply constraints, which will almost certainly be the #1 structural cause of continued global debt and economic struggle moving  

Growth Has An Expiration Date

Well, at least the kind of growth we’ve come to expect over the last 100 years. Tom Murphy is a physics professor at University of California, San Diego. His recent talk at the Compass Summit beautifully describes our #1 global issue moving forward — the energy trap. I think his term “energy trap” is better than “peak oil” for describing the volatile economic consequences that await our new century. Tom has “done the math” (as many of us have) and recognizes a high probability for ever-increasing levels of energy-based economic impediments over the coming decades. Moreover, Tom is the best numbers-oriented speaker I’ve heard on this issue. His talk reminds me of a more focused version of Richard Smalley’s famous energy talks in the late-1990s. Take 23 minutes and listen to Tom’s brilliant – “there is no financing in nature” – overview. If you’re limited for time, start around 11:30. And just for fun… The Daily ShowGet More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook  

The Fugue of Techno-Narcissism

I recently saw a story hit the newswires, claiming that U.S. oil production (from Bakken shale) could surpass Saudi Arabia by 2017 http://www.npr.org/2011/09/25/140784004/new-boom-reshapes-oil-world-rocks-north-dakota http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904060604576572552998674340.html Years ago, I looked into shale and found that the amount of “net energy” input to extract and convert shale deposits into oil was very high. The mantra for years has been that, as the price of oil/energy gets high enough, it will become economically feasible to make oil from U.S. (Bakken) shale. But the problem is EROEI – energy return on energy invested. Last I checked, it takes about 1 bbl of oil energy to extract 8 bbls of U.S. crude oil. It takes roughly 1 bbl to produce 4 bbls of Canadian tar sand oil. Shale is a far less efficient process than sand – perhaps approaching 1:3 EROEI. And this, in short, is the theory of peak oil. We’re getting desperate for cost-effective energy. There will always be billions of bbls of oil out there, but the cost to extract it (relative to supply-demand) will continue to rise, until EROEI approaches 1:1, at which point there will be little use for oil. The “low hanging fruit” (relative to demand) we’ve enjoyed for 100 years is now gone. If regenerative / sustainable energy alternatives are not in place as we approach smaller EROEI fossil ratios, economics and commerce will slow considerably (and perhaps has already). The global economy as we know it relies on cheap energy, yet the cost of that energy is increasing far faster than average inflation (which is troubling since energy is a core % of many inflation indicators). This was / is a central peak oil theory prediction and it seems to be holding true. http://www.fintrend.com/inflation/inflation_rate/Historical_Oil_Prices_Table.asp http://www.fintrend.com/inflation/inflation_rate/Gasoline_Inflation.asp There’s an equal if not greater problem – the environmental damage of shale extraction. Canadian tar sand extraction is a terribly dirty process. I’m told that shale extraction is worse.  When we combine the cost of extraction with the environmental damages, I don’t see where Yergin and Goldman Sachs get their rosy predictions. In the WSJ article, I find at least two glaring misstatements by Yergin. Not surprising, given that he’s one of the oil industry’s highest paid PR gurus. Anyway, the ever colorful James Kunstler penned a reply to Yergin and Goldman which I want to pass along. Enjoy. … This much can be stated categorically about the USA these days: the more distressed our economy gets, the more delusional thinking you will encounter. People want to assign the cause of their misery to this or that (socialism, abortion, Jews, the New World Order). People want to believe that their world is a safe place with bright prospects (climate change is a myth, we have a hundred years of shale oil). The realm of oil is especially ripe for misunderstanding, since we depend on the stuff so desperately, and the world’s geology is complex indeed, and then you have to bring math and money into the picture. But it’s another thing when professional propagandists take the stage and attempt to systematically mislead the  

Zeitgeist 3 – Moving Forward

Peter Joseph (probably not his real last name) has released a new Zeitgeist film. I disagree with a number of Peter’s “Venus Project” assumptions, conclusions, and leading questions. I also found his first two films especially lacking in solid content, relying more on hearsay, dubious history, and weak conspiracy theories. In some cases, Zeit 3 is terribly naive (“upgradable” technology, idealized production and distribution incentives and strategies, utopian city design, overstated energy alternatives, etc.). Yet I’m sharing this movie with you because I think the film is a good conversation starter and especially good thought provoker, addressing a number of profoundly important questions. I find it ironic that the filmmaker, an atheist, uses a John Ortberg lecture as his core value statement — ultimately pointing to the failure of GDP as an adequate, or even relevant, measurement of our individual and collective well-being (a position I passionately agree with). I’m convinced that we need to start thinking towards third-way “systems-based” economies that combine the best elements of free-markets and central resource planning, while retaining the liberties of an unalienable rights-based republic re-imagined in healthier paradigms of resource sustainability, human empathy, and global-equitable access to fundamental human needs. Centralized economies fail for many reasons. One reason is because, historically, they haven’t appropriately rewarded the people and organizations who excel and add real value back into the community. But cultural definitions of excellence, value, reward, and community vary subjectively. Corrupt, bailed-out banking systems and an obese military-industrial economy are two areas in which we can start to radically re-define the terms excellence and reward. And we can start to expand our definition of community from tribes and borders to a sense of global family. I agree with the filmmaker (@ 2:16) that we are faced today with a potentially fatal “value system” disorder and (@ 2:20) that many of today’s economic assumptions are gross distortions driven by temporary access to cheap, concentrated energy. For the health and well-being of our great grandchildren and our planet in general, we need to develop a better informed and more comprehensively linked value system between our economic systems, our natural resources, and our fundamental connectedness as a human  

Addicted to Risk

“Ignore those creeping fears that we have finally hit the wall. There are still no limits. There will always be another frontier. So stop worrying, and keep shopping.” – Naomi Klein, TEDTalk I appreciate Naomi’s voice in the conversation on sustainability vs. risk as we enter the era of “extreme energy.” This is a compelling talk about “master narratives” which may challenge you to reconsider your preconceptions. Her overview on the Alberta Tar Sands is especially powerful. “Just when we understand that we must live off the surface of our planet – off the power of sun, wind, and waves – we are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest carbon-emitting stuff imaginable… This is how Jared Diamond and others have shown that empires commit suicide – by stepping on the accelerator at the exact moment they should be putting on the brakes… Life is too precious to be risked for just any profit… We need different  

The Six-Day Skyscraper

As China increases their ownership of U.S. debt (at a rate now exceeding $1 billion per DAY), they are also methodically leapfrogging us in terms of everyday technologies. A good example is China’s Broad Construction Company (www.broad.com). They can now build a fifteen story hotel that meets our best green energy standards. And they can build it in SIX DAYS. From Broad’s Chinese website: Level 9 Earthquake Resistance: diagonal bracing structure, light weight, steel construction, passed level 9 earthquake resistance testing. . 6x Less Material: even though the construction materials are much lighter(250kg/m2) than the traditional materials(over 1500kg/m2), the floors and walls are solid with surefootedness, airtight and sound-proofing. . 5x Energy Efficient: 150mm thermal insulation for walls and roofs, triple glazed plastic windows, external solar shading, heat insulation, fresh air heat recovery, LED lighting, yearly HVAC A/C energy consumption equivalent to 7 liters oil. [ed., i doubt that last figure] . 20x Purification: after 3 levels of purification, the purification efficiency for fresh air reaches 95%-99.9%; air exchanged 1-2.5 times per hour, and indoor air is 20x cleaner than out door air. . 1% Construction Waste: all components are factory made, construction waste, mainly package materials, result from on site set-up only and amount to 1% of the total weight of the building. . This is the first building in human history which combines almost all environmental friendly, comfortable and secure elements. So, we call it: Sustainable  

Favorite TED Talks 2010

Great to see Bill Gates taking global energy seriously. In fact, he publicly stated from the TED stage last week what I’ve been saying since 2003:  energy is this century’s greatest structural issue. Fellow TED’ster Richard Branson went public this week with a similar clarion call. Worldchanging founder Alex Steffan, whom I spoke with at length, calls this “the most important climate speech of the year.” Sir Ken Robinson defined once again the highest art of public speaking. TED curator, Chris Anderson, noted after Ken’s talk that he may be the only person who can break all the TEDTalk rules – and we love him for it. Robinson focused on why education needs to change from an industrial model to an agricultural model. I think the same can be said of religion. Echoes of Wendell Berry. Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot took us through a stunning visualization of design simplicity, in the form of fractals. I had a chance to spend some time with Benoit at TED, discussing emergence theory in light of fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot set. The music at TED this year was stunning: David Byrne (who also gave a TEDTalk), Thomas Dolby, and Natalie Merchant melted us with a brand new suite of songs based on romantic poets from the last 100 years. Cheryl Crow showed up, but probably shouldn’t have. Not much there musically. Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and family, and other musicians were soaking up the TED experience, but not there to perform. Oh, and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro captivated everyone. I’ve never heard a uke played with such subtlety – a true master of the instrument. I understand he gave impromptu concerts back in the lobby of the TED hotel. Anyone who takes the stage at TED is unpaid, including the invited musicians. Drawing from the field of Behavioral Economics, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman presented what amounted to an intellectual foundation for our activist social-media site Compathos.com. Dan asks, “when we return from a vacation, do the memories we bring back have intrinsic value?” Compathos (still in beta) seeks to realign the concept of “vacation” as a proactive event in which we aid or assist our destination with skills we possess (medical, engineering, skilled labor, crafts, etc..) and in doing so, we become deeply changed – bringing back to our own communities a new perspective, a new heart, and transformed motivations – far more than a traditional vacation memory. Sam Harris gave a surprisingly engaging talk. Rather than rehashing his views on atheism, Harris focused on finding an objective framework for morality and ethics. I’m reminded of Arthur C. Clarke, who said “one of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.” Kevin Bales presented a detailed, moving account of global slavery. It’s Kevin’s academic work that gave us the estimate of 27 million slaves worldwide. His work in slavery has effectively paved the way for most of today’s anti-slave efforts. I was honored to have lunch with Kevin after TED ended on Saturday – what a truly amazing man. Game designer Jane McGonigal sees video gaming as a core solution to many of today’s social problems. Don’t laugh – her TEDTalk is a must-watch. Brilliant. Cell biologist Mark Roth is onto something big. He’s discovered a way to put biological systems into suspended animation. Using his techniques, people who would otherwise die from serious trauma on the battlefield, in car accidents, etc.. can be placed into suspension (heart and breathing stopped – effectively dead) for hours without tissue damage while they are transported to a trauma center. Jaw dropping. Entertainer Sarah Silverman reminded me of those shallow and bawdy Las Vegas night club comedians from my parent’s era (Redd Foxx, etc..). With kids sharing the live TED experience both in Long Beach and virtual associates worldwide, this was not a wise choice. Live and learn. But many of the best talks were those that happened between sessions, in the halls, in the social spaces, at the lunches, and dinners, and parties, and spontaneous gatherings that define the TED experience. To elaborate on all the amazing, emotive, high-energy, a-ha! conversations I had this year might sound like name-dropping, so I’ll spare you the details. I go to TED to get energized, inspired, challenged, and awestruck by and with amazing people doing amazing things. I spend a week of my life here to renew a sense of childlike wonder and remind myself that I’m not crazy – that there are others who dare to dream big. ADDED:  Eighteen-year TED veteran Jack Meyers captures the scope and nuance of a TED Conference in his Huffington Post essay ADDED: Scoble’s excellent summary of attending TED ADDED: Overview of Bill Gates’ energy talk, at  

Surfing the Exponential (Synthetic Biology)

Synthetic Biology. I don’t think I’ve ever been as equally intrigued and frightened as much by anything in my life. I listened to Craig Venter at TED earlier this year describe how he was creating entirely new genetic life forms (not simply hybrid recombinants). My reaction was identical. Until we reasonably know the total risks of synthetic biology, I believe the potential dangers of widespread boutique gene creation will usually outweigh the benefits. But it’s too late. The race is on. We may not recognize the power of the path we’re embarking upon until it is too late. A must-read New Yorker article describes in detail: ………… A team from Pennsylvania State University, working with hair samples from two woolly mammoths “one of them sixty thousand years old and the other eighteen thousand” has tentatively figured out how to modify that DNA and place it inside an elephant’s egg. The mammoth could then be brought to term in an elephant mother. “There is little doubt that it would be fun to see a living, breathing woolly mammoth” a shaggy, elephantine creature with long curved tusks who reminds us more of a very large, cuddly stuffed animal than of a T. Rex.,  the Times editorialized soon after the discovery was announced. “We’re just not sure that it would be all that much fun for the mammoth.” It is only a matter of time before domesticated biotechnology presents us with what Dyson described as an “œexplosion of diversity of new living creatures. . . . Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but a great many will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora.” I asked Endy why he thought so many people seem to be repelled by the idea of constructing new forms of life. “Because it’s scary as hell,” he said. “It’s the coolest platform science has ever produced, but the questions it raises are the hardest to answer.” If you can sequence something properly and you possess the information for describing that organism “whether it’s a virus, a dinosaur, or a human being” you will eventually be able to construct an artificial version of it. That gives us an alternate path for propagating living organisms. Moreover, how safe can it be to manipulate and create life? How likely are accidents that would unleash organisms onto a world that is not prepared for them? And will it be an easy technology for people bent on destruction to acquire? “We are talking about things that have never been done before,” Endy said. “If the society that powered this technology collapses in some way, we would go extinct pretty quickly. You wouldn’t have a chance to revert back to the farm or to the pre-farm. We would just be gone.” “These are powerful choices. Think about what happens when you really can print the genome of your offspring. You could start with your own sequence, of course, and mash it up with your partner, or as many partners as you like. Because computers won’t care. And, if you wanted evolution, you can include random number generators.” That would have the effect of introducing the element of chance into synthetic design. Although Endy speaks with passion about the biological future, he acknowledges how little scientists know. “It is important to unpack some of the hype and expectation around what you can do with biotechnology as a manufacturing platform,” he said. “We have not scratched the surface. But how far will we be able to go? That question needs to be discussed openly, because you can’t address issues of risk and society unless you have an answer.” “It’s very hard for me to have a conversation about these issues, because people adopt incredibly defensive postures,” Endy continued. “The scientists on one side and civil-society organizations on the other. And, to be fair to those groups, science has often proceeded by skipping the dialogue. But some environmental groups will say, Let’s not permit any of this work to get out of a laboratory until we are sure it is all safe. And as a practical matter that is not the way science works. We can’t come back decades later with an answer. We need to develop solutions by doing them. The potential is great enough, I believe, to convince people it’s worth the risk.” “Do you know how we study aging?” Endy continued. “The tools we use today are almost akin to cutting a tree in half and counting the rings. But if the cells had a memory we could count properly. Every time a cell divides, just move the counter by one. Maybe that will let me see them changing with a precision nobody can have today. Then I could give people controllers to start retooling those cells. Or we could say, Wow, this cell has divided two hundred times, it’s obviously lost control of itself and become cancer. Kill it. That lets us think about new therapies for all kinds of diseases.” “We are surfing an exponential now, and, even for people who pay attention, surfing an exponential is a really tricky thing to do. And when the exponential you are surfing has the capacity to impact the world in such a fundamental way, in ways we have never before considered, how do you even talk about that? “ This is open-source biology, where intellectual property is shared. What’s available to idealistic students, of course, would also be available to terrorists. Any number of blogs offer advice about everything from how to preserve proteins to the best methods for desalting DNA. Openness like that can be frightening, and there have been calls for tighter control of the technology. Carlson, among many others, believes that strict regulations are unlikely to succeed. Several years ago, with very few tools other than a credit card, he opened his own biotechnology company, Biodesic, in the garage of his Seattle home “a biological version of the do-it-yourself movement that gave birth to so many computer companies, including Apple.” “Strict regulation doesn’t accomplish its goals,” Carlson said. “It’s not an exact analogy, but look at Prohibition. What happened when government restricted the production and sale of alcohol? Crime rose dramatically. It became organized and powerful. Legitimate manufacturers could not sell alcohol, but it was easy to make in a garage or a warehouse.” By 2002, the U.S. government intensified its effort to curtail the sale and production of methamphetamine. Previously, the drug had been manufactured in many mom-and-pop labs throughout the country. Today, production has been professionalized and centralized, and the Drug Enforcement Administration says that less is known about methamphetamine production than before. “The black market is getting blacker,” Carlson said. “Crystal-meth use is still rising, and all this despite restrictions.” Strict control would not necessarily insure the same fate for synthetic biology, but it might. Bill Joy, a founder of Sun Microsystems, has frequently called for restrictions on the use of technology. “It is even possible that self-replication may be more fundamental than we thought, and hence harder” or even impossible “to control,” he wrote in an essay for Wired called Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.  “The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.” Still, censoring the pursuit of knowledge has never really worked, in part because there are no parameters for society to decide who should have information and who should not. The opposite approach might give us better results: accelerate the development of technology and open it to more people and educate them to its purpose. Otherwise, if Carlson’s methamphetamine analogy proves accurate, power would flow directly into the hands of the people least likely to use it wisely. For synthetic biology to accomplish any of its goals, we will also need an education system that encourages skepticism and the study of science. In 2007, students in Singapore, Japan, China, and Hong Kong (which was counted independently) all performed better on an international science exam than American students. The U.S. scores have remained essentially stagnant since 1995, the first year the exam was administered. Adults are even less scientifically literate. Early in 2009, the results of a California Academy of Sciences poll (conducted throughout the nation) revealed that only fifty-three per cent of American adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun, and a slightly larger number “fifty-nine per cent” are aware that dinosaurs and humans never lived at the same time. The industrial age is drawing to a close, eventually to be replaced by an era of biological engineering. That won’t happen easily (or quickly), and it will never solve every problem we expect it to solve. But what worked for artemisinin can work for many of the products our species will need to survive. “We are going to start doing the same thing that we do with our pets, with bacteria,” the genomic futurist Juan Enriquez has said, describing our transition from a world that relied on machines to one that relies on biology. “A house pet is a domesticated parasite,” he noted. ” It is evolved to have an interaction with human beings. Same thing with corn” a crop that didn’t exist until we created it. “Same thing is going to start happening with energy,” he went on. “We are going to start domesticating bacteria to process stuff inside enclosed reactors to produce energy in a far more clean and efficient manner. This is just the beginning stage of being able to program