What we should not forget is that conventional forecasts for the future of energy are heavily dependent on linear models, they take the past and project it out on to the future with little reference to compounding feedback loops and how different technologies and industries interact to create synergies, and it is here that nonlinear disruptive change really happens.
One classic example of this linear thinking that blinds us to the possibilities of disruption, is Mckinsey’s forecast for the growth of the mobile phone industry back in the 1980s. AT&T, the telecommunications company, commissioned McKinsey, one of the world’s greatest management consultant firms, in the year 1982 to predict how many mobile phones will be in use in the year 2000. Mckinsey’s consultants came up with the really rationale analysis that said; because the batteries do not last long, the phone is really heavy, they cost a lot and there is a lack of network coverage, they projected there being still only about 700,000 phones in the year 2000. Today we sell that many mobile phones almost everyday.
The same is true for the energy sector, IEA projections for renewables have been wrong every year since 2001. Every year their projections were exceeded and it went up and up, doubling almost every time. Solar may well be a major disruptor to the industry yet, we have to wait and see. The author Tony Seba is probably the greatest proponent of this nonlinear growth to solar. According to him “exponentially improving technologies such as solar, electric vehicles, and autonomous (self-driving) cars will disrupt and sweep away the energy and transportation industries as we know it. The same Silicon Valley ecosystem that created bit-based technologies that have disrupted atom-based industries is now creating bit- and electron-based technologies that will disrupt atom-based energy industries.” He predicts that cleantech disruption will by 2030 result in: all new energy being provided by solar or wind. All new mass-market vehicles being electric. The car market shrinking by 80%. Gasoline becoming obsolete and natural gas and coal also becoming obsolete. Pretty radical stuff, but with the way solar has developed so far black swan events are possible.