Exponential take-off: Solar equals all the world’s current electricity in 8 years?

Wubbo Ockels describes the incredible speed he experienced lifting off into space in the Challenger┬áspace shuttle. Within 2 minutes blue sky fades to black, 8 minutes later he’s weightless just 200 miles from earth and outside the atmosphere. Minus 200 degrees outside. No oxygen.

From Challenger astronaut to Professor of Sustainable Engineering and Technology at Delft University in the Netherlands Ockels, speaking in Adelaide after the World Solar Challenge, is a passionate solar advocate. He says ‘solar is growing exponentially’. From 2007 to 2008 growth was greater than 100%.

If we continue to grow at this rate, 8 years from now solar panels will equal today’s global electricity generating capacity. Sound’s extraordinary? The numbers are in the table below.

Year Solar Installed Global Total Solar
Global installed
2007 3 0.0
2008 6 0.0 4.1
2009 12 0.0
2010 24 0.0
2011 48 0.1
2012 95 0.2
2013 190 0.4
2014 381 0.8
2015 761 1.5
2016 1,523 3.0
2017 3,045 6.1

Its waste – not savings

You’ve seen the banners: It’s simple. Save energy, save money and the environment; Save yourself $350; Cost effective energy savings opportunities for industry.

Is it too good to miss an offer like this? Turns out we often do.

People generally try to avoid a future loss more than they try to achieve a future gain. This can occur even when the size of the financial loss or gain is similar. We know such an outcome occurs for finances and money and researchers David Hardisty and Elke Weber have just shown the same applies for environmental decision making.

In other words, if we are trying to encourage people to take action today – action that has long term benefits for themselves and the broader environment – we are likely to be far better off saying stop wasting $350 rather than the save yourself $350 message.

The UK Energy Saving Trust, despite it’s name and proclaiming energy saving week rather than stop wasting money and energy this week, does have a bet both ways. Stop wasting energy and money is on it’s home page. | Picture: irtsurveys.co.uk

Climate Talks lead-in

In the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate talks, amid the carbon cut numbers, cap and trade or tax policy there are some real, smaller picture, stand out initiatives being announced. A few include the French government’s announcement of 2.2 billion for electric car charging stations and making it mandatory for office car parks to have charging stations by 2015 (picture inhabitat.com).

In Korea it’s hydrogen from landfill gas for hydrogen vehicles and a commercial hydrogen fuel cell that powers 3000 homes (cost comparisons here).

In a slightly different vein – but a sign of the times none the less – Apple, Nike, PG&E and Exelon quit the US Chamber of Commerce over it’s climate stance. And UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put a size on the low-carbon sector. It is now larger than defense and aerospace combined.

Clearly there’s some business and government action at these levels. For the moral imperative, Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics Centre documents the uncomfortable similarities between climate responses and slavery, as argued in the UK Parliament in 1806!

Home power over your phone

For anyone who’s wondered what’s actually going into their quarterly power bill, electricity at home just got smarter.

Google’s powermeter promises to show your electricity use from any internet connected device, including your mobile phone. By knowing your power use every day, rather than every three months, the aim is to give you information that helps cut wasted money on power bills.

Trouble was you had to have a smart meter and buy electricity from one of two – Florida and Germany – power companies. And, as Nicholas Stern highlights in his Climate Change review for the UK government: Behaviour is driven by a number of factors, not just financial costs and benefits (see summary). Easy access to information is a step towards such change.

The answer? The Energy Detective a monitor that sends your home’s power use to the web. It’s not quite all there yet however, 240 volt Australian / Europe versions are due early 2010.