Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moore's Law and Solar

There's a good article at Scientific American on the huge potential of solar energy. Roughly: there's a bazillion gagillian mega googily joules of solar energy on every square inch of the planet's surface. And if we could just cover the surface of Michael Moore's right butt cheek with 100% efficient solar cells, we could power the United States for a billion years.

Actually, it's an upbeat article, and I agree with most of it. There is a ton of free energy out there. And solar cells are steadily getting cheaper. There's every reason to expect great things from solar energy. It could even become a good energy deal in the next 10 - 20 years; cheaper than coal or natural gas.

And Moore's Law might apply to solar panels, at least for the foreseeable future. But here's the thing about Moore's law - as long as the chip makers kept working on the next generation of chip, constantly improving the science of chip making, it didn't matter what was done with each successive generation. They could have shelved the 486 processor and the first Pentium would have still been created, then the Pentium II etc.

They did use the technology as it became available because it was making money to fuel research and build companies. But what if it didn't? What if you lost money selling computers; would it make any sense to flood the market with subsidized computers that nobody wanted? That's what the Obama administration is doing with solar projects.

I'm all for research. Research is what gets more transistors into our ever improving computers and it's what makes solar cells cheaper every day. So use tax money for research. Don't give $1.4 billion to RFK Jr. so he can buy up a billion 512k memory cards. Give it to researchers so they can someday sell us 64GB cards at the same price.