As usual, there is bad news and there is good news. The bad news is that there is no Moore’s Law for carbon-free energy production. The good news is that there is Wright’s Law for carbon-free energy production! A recent study points out that traditional business models have consistently overestimated the cost of renewables over time, and that a transition to carbon-free energy will occur with a net positive impact on the economy.
Some of our tech-savvy readers may have heard of Moore’s Law. This is a phenomenon in the advancement of computer development where the number of transistors on a microchip doubles roughly every two years, thus doubling their computational capacity – so the cost of doing the same computation is divided. by two. This law has been in effect since the late 1960s, when it was predicted by Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel Corporation. Since then, computing power has doubled about 23 times, a tenfold increase. Your typical smartphone is literally millions of times more powerful than the world’s largest computers of the late 1960s. And thousands of times less. Dear.
A physics student once asked me if there was something like Moore’s Law for energy. My answer was then that there is not. I unearthed a book that was given to me in 1965, when I was 11 years old, called “The Man and the Power”. He described historical energy sources and how they evolved over time: he spoke of the drastic change in energy use with James Watt’s development of an efficient steam engine and how he drove the industrial Revolution. Then there was another change at the start of the 20th century with the internal combustion engine and the electrification of the company.
But in terms of where we get our energy and how efficiently we use it, things didn’t look drastically different in 1965 from what they are today. Nuclear power did not develop at the rate predicted in the 1950s. The only significant renewable energy sources then were hydropower and biomass. Today there is wind and solar, but only about 4.5% of our energy comes from it. Yes, the costs of wind and solar do decrease over time, but nothing as dramatic as Moore’s Law.
But now for the GOOD NEWS: there’s Wright’s Law. Applied to the development of technologies, this law relates the quantity of deployment of a technology to its cost. As the deployment increases, the cost per unit decreases. In the case of solar power, it turns out that for every doubling of the total amount deployed, there is usually a decrease of about 20% in the cost per unit. (This should not be confused with economy of scale which relates more to the size or scale of an individual project.)
A recent article from the Institute for New Economic Thought at the University of Oxford used Wright’s Law to make predictions about the cost of future deployment of wind and solar. Claiming, with documentation, that traditional business models have consistently overestimated the cost of renewables over time, they show how Wright’s Law predicts that the cost of wind and solar will continue to decline exponentially at these rates. .
Not only do they predict that these costs will continue to fall, but that it is possible to move to a virtually carbon-free energy world with a positive, NOT negative, impact on economic growth. In fact, we could save $ 26 trillion over the next 50 years if we redirect our investments to these renewables in the future. In other words, we could switch to these renewables just for economic reasons, even without the threat of climate change. They predict that with a rapid transition to these renewables, we could achieve 80% emission reductions by 2040, which is well below the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
There are of course vested interests that could well delay such a transition: namely, the fossil fuel industry, which has a strong lobbying contingent at the top. We need policies that put the interests of the planet before those of certain companies. For example, adopting a price on CO2 production and removing fossil fuel subsidies would go a long way in accelerating this transition. The facilitation of power transmission infrastructure would certainly help, as society’s understanding of the need appears to be far behind.
Policymakers CAN address these issues, including ensuring that the transition is fair. The potentially disruptive effects of the transition, such as the displacement of workers in the fossil fuel industries, can and should be addressed, of course. Politics is a matter of political will and intention – there are many ways to help economies around the world shift from using polluting energy directly to renewables, as they aspire to raise their standard of living. to that of developed countries. We all need to be on the same page – saving the planet – without conflict of interest.
In short, well done, this transition will be good for our economy, the economies of developing countries and everyone’s atmosphere.
Paul Stancioff, PhD., Is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Maine Farmington, who also studies energy economics. Cynthia Stancioff pursues climate action and mental health. Their emails are [emailÂ protected] and [emailÂ protected] . The previous columns are available at https://paulandcynthiaenergymatters.blogspot.com/.