Quite often, an energy doomer will turn up commenting that I am overlooking the fact that the expansion of the last century has been oil-fuelled and that this century’s new oil scarcity means that the party is over.
These people are wrong — for the same reason that Malthus (and all Malthusians) have always been wrong about everything — they have ignored the hard-to-measure variable of human ingenuity.
Back in September I remarked:
The solar energy hitting the earth exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity by a factor of over 20,000 times. More solar energy hits the world in a day, than we use in fifty years, at current rates.
Nuclear fission has massive unquantifiable tail risk. Solar power has almost zero tail risk.
A new high efficiency solar cell design that can use almost the entire solar spectrum has been announced by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
What this means is that the resulting solar panels will be able to generate power while it’s dark! What’s more, the new solar technology can be made using existing low cost methods already in operation.
A conventional solar cell captures light from one part of the spectrum. This new solar technology uses different materials stacked in layers, which use different wavelengths. Significantly, these include low and mid-energy wavelengths.
Human ingenuity triumphs again. The beauty of solar is that nothing can compete with its ubiquity, its reliability and its decentralisation. The growth of solar energy melds with nature: solar energy is by far the most abundant source of energy on our planet, far more so than hydrocarbons. Oil and gas are a necessary stepping stone to the solar revolution, nothing more. They are, ultimately, solar energy from aeons ago locked away beneath the earth.
Directly harnessing the power of the stars is an obvious step in the development of any sustainable terrestrial species.
None of this excuses the excesses of Solyndra, though. Solar will deploy as it becomes economically viable for it to do so, not via the assent of politicians.
With conventional energy prices continuing their century-long march upward, that will not be long.