Connection

While some would seek to divide us by physical borders, political ideology, caste identity, or religious moralism, in the larger reality there are no borders. We are all made of the identical stardust, subject to the same universal laws, and given the freedom to love unconditionally, or to define and defend our exclusions. This video is another reminder of our very small community. When looking down at the pale blue planet, astronauts have described an overwhelming sense of fragile sacred unity. Here’s a musical offering to the greater reality of our planetary lives together — songwriter Ed Robertson in duet with I.S.S. astronaut Chris Hadfield, with live choir. “You can’t make out borders from up here, Just a spinning ball with a very tiny atmosphere. All black and white just fades to gray, Where the sun rises 16 times a day. What once was fueled by fear, now has 15 nations orbiting together here. So sing your song, I’m listening. Out where stars are glistening. I can hear your voices bouncing off the moon.”   One astronaut said, “When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was on the moon. We weren’t thinking about looking back at the Earth. But now that we’ve done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went.” A twenty-minute documentary explores in stunning HD the “Overview Effect” experienced by astronauts. I would suggest that accelerations in global-virtual connection are creating a similar kind of social overview effect: re-wiring our “sense of place and being” from local-tribal to global-concurrent-participatory. “We have to start acting like one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t.”    

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  

A Force of Good

My mycologist friend Paul Stamets has a new film in collaboration with visionary filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg. It’s two minutes of creative brilliance. “If we don’t understand the organisms that sustain us today, not only will we destroy those organisms, but we will destroy ourselves.” This is also a good reminder to get involved in the movement to better regulate GMO seeds and foods. For a quick study, read today’s Joe Mercola essay on Monsanto. After reading this chilling and eye-opening brief, you’ll better understand why, according to Forbes Magazine, Google’s first suggested search term for the company is ‘Monstanto  

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  

IX

I go by a field where once I cultivated a few poor crops. It is now covered with young trees, for the forest that belongs here has come back and reclaimed its own. And I think of all the effort I have wasted and all the time, and of how much joy I took in that failed work and how much it taught me. For in so failing I learned something of my place, something of myself, and now I welcome back the trees. IX by Wendell Berry (from  

PopTech 2010

At the PopTech conference this week in Camden Maine. A small gathering of people conspiring to generate positive world change. The format is TED-like, but the demographic seems about 15 years younger, which is a welcome difference. You might enjoy a couple of videos filmed this week at Poptech. The first is a very funny guy named Reggie Watts. The second is from our sail around Camden Harbor with adventurer David de Rothschild, leader of the Plastiki Expedition. David talks briefly about Plastiki and the essential power of storytelling. Enjoy. Reggie Watts: Part 1 from PopTech on  

Life on Europa

A trio of skilled researchers have suggested that DNA-based life has been found on Jupiter’s moon Europa. “We can only conclude that based on this preliminary subjective data that some type of biological activity is at play on Europa.” ADDED: Ironically, another discovery of possible life on Saturn’s moon Titan was released just hours ago at New  

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