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Will solar be the biggest energy source of the future?

Theoretically, the sunlight hitting the surface of the earth amply meets human energy requirements. A 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest of the United States could generate enough electricity for the entire country. However, some doubt whether solar energy sources can be constructed cheaply and quickly enough to significantly replace other energy sources. In addition, to meet base load demands, solar innovation must be coupled with substantial innovations in energy storage.

Implications to Other Questions

Can renewables meet base-load energy demands?
Will solar be the biggest energy source of the future?

Experts and Influencers

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Experts In Science

Joseph Romm    Physicist, Environmentalist, Writer
[Sunlight concentrated by mirrors] will be the most important form of carbon-free power in the 21st century. That's because it's the only form of clean electricity that can meet all the demanding requirements of this century. ... Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States.
14 Apr 2008    Source

Ray Kurzweil    Inventor, Artificial Intelligence Researcher
[we are] confident that we are not that far away from a tipping point where energy from solar will be [economically] competitive with fossil fuels. ... We also see an exponential progression in the use of solar energy. It is doubling now every two years. Doubling every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years.
19 Feb 2008    Source

Experts In Economics

The Economist    Politics and Business Magazine
Wind is only an interim stop on the way to a world where electricity no longer relies on fossil fuels. The ultimate goal is to harvest the sun’s energy directly by intercepting sunlight, rather than by waiting for that sunlight to stir up the atmosphere and sticking turbines in the resulting airstreams.
19 Jun 2008    Source

Experts In Business

Bill Gates    Microsoft Cofounder, Philanthropist
Mostly Disagree
...renewable sources... have some disadvantages. ... The density of energy gathered in these technologies is dramatically less than a power plant... ...they are also intermittent sources... ...we have transmission challenges... ...there's this storage problem... ... if you're counting on it for a 100% you need an incredible miracle battery... ...this shows up when you try to get the intermittent source to be above 20% to 30% of what you're using [as a ratio of total energy usage].
01 Feb 2010    Source

Experts In Nuclear Energy

Mostly Disagree
Clean electricity from 'new renewables' - solar, wind, biomass and geothermal power - deserves strong support. But the collective capacity of these technologies to produce electricity in the decades ahead is limited. The IEA projects that, even with continued subsidy and research support, these new renewables can only provide around 6% of world electricity by 2030. ... nuclear energy is the only proven option [to] produce vastly expanded supplies of clean electricity on a global scale.
27 Jun 2010    Source


Add Your TakeOnIt (click to expand, no login required)
1 Point      Nashhinton      21 Nov 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
It's very likely that solar energy will be a major source of usable energy before 2040-2100. According to the Kardashev scale (which is a method for measuring a civilization's progress by analyzing the technological progress and energy consumption of a civilization), all types of alternative energy ranging from solar and nuclear energy will be used before the next 100-200 years. Also my hypothesis is that if humanity survives for another 50 or 100 years, we will have a global government that will ensure that humanity will peacefully cooperate. This global government will bring about a technological utopia, possibly with AIs governing and regulating the world's affairs. I think the establishment of this one world government will happen sometime before or after the technological singularity. So the years for the establishment of this world government are roughly between 2030-2060. Also I believe that many luddites and religious extremists will strongly oppose the one world government and the technological advancements that will be invented leading to a world war.

0 Points      blacktrance      10 Feb 2011      Stance on Question: Disagree
I find it rather unlikely. Solar power is relatively inefficient. Nuclear is probably the most viable.

0 Points      Luke      08 Jan 2011      Stance on Question: Agree
I agree. I really think solar energy is the future. It can easily sustain our whole globe, the costs can be demanding, but I really think it is worth it

Best Wishes

0 Points      Benja      27 Jun 2010      General Comment
Ray Kurzweil's view that "Doubling [solar energy] every two years means multiplying by 1,000 in 20 years. At that rate we'll meet 100 percent of our energy needs in 20 years." strikes me as implausible. Surely technical, economic, and political realities quash mathematical idealism (e.g. dealing with resource constraints, a new reliance on energy storage, etc.). But OTOH I also find it implausible that my intuition is particularly insightful here - surely Kurzweil would be aware of such arguments...?

FWIW, one of the first questions I had on this website was about whether indium would run out (indium is an uncommon element used in thin-film solar cells). From a brief analysis, it seems unlikely we'd run into permanent resource constraints, and furthermore, technological advances could bypass the reliance on elements such as indium altogether. These issues however, would surely create real-world kinks in a mathematically pure growth curve.