The Advent of Artificial Intelligence: Ask Stephen Hawking about it.

A receptionist robot performs during a demonstration for the media at the new hotel, aptly called Henn na Hotel or Weird Hotel, in Sasebo, southwestern Japan, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. From the receptionist that does the check-in and check-out to the porter that’s a stand-on-wheels taking luggage up to the room, the hotel, that is run as part of Huis Ten Bosch amusement park, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labor costs. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

A receptionist robot performs during a demonstration for the media at the new hotel, aptly called Henn na Hotel or Weird Hotel, in Sasebo, southwestern Japan, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. From the receptionist that does the check-in and check-out to the porter that’s a stand-on-wheels taking luggage up to the room, the hotel, that is run as part of Huis Ten Bosch amusement park, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labor costs. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is set to do his first AMA (Ask Me Anything) forum on Reddit today, from Monday July 27 at 8AM Eastern Time through Tuesday, August 4. He plans to discuss his concerns that artificial intelligence could one day outsmart mankind if we are not careful.

You can find the details about it in the article linked below.

http://www.cnet.com/news/stephen-hawking-to-answer-your-questions-via-his-first-reddit-ama/

With driverless car possibly becoming a reality within our lifetime, the exponential rate of innovation have made us rethink what we can and can’t achieve. The topic of sentient AI is ever pervasive in the media with numerous illustrations across all mediums. The question that is on everyone’s mind is, can we seriously hope to create a “friendly AI”?

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX has likened the development of AI to “summoning of the devil.” I suppose it is the sign of the times indicative of how far we have come and how close we actually are to Artificial Intelligence having an impact on our daily lives.

The notion of artificial intelligence in relation to human civilization is not a new phenomenon. It has existed as early as 1920s when Czech science fiction writer Karel Čapek coined the term “robot” in his play R.U.R. Few decades later, the three laws of robotics was developed by famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in his 1942 short story “Runaround”.

The 3 laws being:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Although these laws have its roots in science fiction, they have gained some traction in genuine AI research. The popular culture is abundant with depictions of artificial intelligence both benevolent and malevolent coexisting with humans. And as we near this monumental paradigm shift, the hard question we must ask ourselves is, can we trust artificial being that may well evolve and deem us obsolete?

In any case, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves so we can ask better questions. Below is an infographic that will hopefully will shed some light on what is at stake.

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Clean Energy Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule

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The most important piece of news on the energy front isn’t the plunge in oil prices, but the progress that is being made in battery technology. A new study in Nature Climate Change, by Bjorn Nykvist and Mans Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute, shows that electric vehicle batteries have been getting cheaper much faster than expected. From 2007 to 2011, average battery costs for battery-powered electric vehicles fell by about 14 percent a year. For the leading electric vehicle makers, Tesla and Nissan, costs fell by 8 percent a year. This astounding decline puts battery costs right around the level that the International Energy Agency predicted they would reach in 2020. We are six years ahead of the curve. It’s a bit hard to read, but here is the graph from the paper:

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This puts the electric vehicle industry at a very interesting inflection point. Back in 2011, McKinsey & Co. made a chart showing which kind of vehicle would be the most economical at various prices for gasoline and batteries:

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Looking at this graph, we can see the incredible progress made just since 2011. Battery prices per kilowatt-hour have fallen from about $550 when the graph was made to about $450 now. For Tesla and Nissan, the gray rectangle (which represents current prices) is even farther to the left, to about the $300 range, where the economics really starts to change and battery-powered vehicles become feasible.

But in the past year, the price of gasoline has fallen as well, and is now in the $2.50 range even in expensive markets. A glut of oil, and a possible thaw in U.S.-Iran relations, have moved the gray rectangle down into the dark blue area where internal combustion engines reign supreme.

Still, if battery prices keep falling, the gray rectangle will keep moving to the left. The Swedish researchers believe that Tesla’s new factories will be able to achieve the 30 percent cost reduction the company promises, simply from economies of scale and incremental improvements in the manufacturing process. That, combined with a rebound in gas prices to the $3 range, would be enough to make battery-powered vehicles an economic alternative to internal combustion vehicles in most regions.

But this isn’t the only piece of good energy news. Investment in renewable energy is powering ahead.

The United Nations Environment Programme recently released a report showing that global investment in renewable energy, which had dipped a bit between 2011 and 2013, rebounded in 2014 to a near all-time high of $270 billion. But the report also notes that since renewable costs — especially solar costs — are falling so fast, the amount of renewable energy capacity added in 2014 was easily an all-time high. China, the U.S. and Japan are leading the way in renewable investment. Renewables went from 8.5 percent to 9.1 percent of global electricity generation just in 2014.

That’s still fairly slow in an absolute sense. Adding 0.6 percentage point a year to the renewable share would mean the point where renewables take half of the electricity market wouldn’t come until after 2080. But as solar costs fall, we can expect that shift to accelerate. In particular, forecasts are for solar to become the cheapest source of energy — at least when the sun is shining — in many parts of the world in the 2020s.

Each of these trends — cheaper batteries and cheaper solar electricity — is good on its own, and on the margin will help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, with all the geopolitical drawbacks and climate harm they entail. But together, the two cost trends will add up to nothing less than a revolution in the way humankind interacts with the planet and powers civilization.

You see, the two trends reinforce each other. Cheaper batteries mean that cars can switch from gasoline to the electrical grid. But currently, much of the grid is powered by coal. With cheap solar replacing coal at a rapid clip, that will be less and less of an issue. As for solar, its main drawback is intermittency. But with battery costs dropping, innovative manufacturers such as Tesla will be able to make cheap batteries for home electricity use, allowing solar power to run your house 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

So instead of thinking of solar and batteries as two independent things, we should think of them as one single unified technology package. Solar-plus-batteries is set to begin a dramatic transformation of human civilization. The transformation has already begun, but will really pick up steam during the next decade. That is great news, because cheap energy powers our economy, and because clean energy will help stop climate change.

Of course, skeptics and opponents of the renewable revolution continue to downplay these remarkable developments. The takeoff of solar-plus-batteries has only begun to ramp up the exponential curve, and market shares are still small. But it has begun, and it doesn’t look like we’re going back.

Citation: Smith, N. (2015, April 8). Clean Energy Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-04-08/clean-energy-revolution-is-way-ahead-of-schedule

8 Solar Trends to Follow in 2015

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Every quarter, GTM Research’s solar analysts compile the most important data and findings from the past three months.  The most important charts from the Q4 2014 Solar Executive Briefing covering pricing, installations, financing, policy and business models follow.

1. The new China solar tariff decision may drive panel prices below 65 cents per watt this year.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce filed its preliminary review of the import tariffs on Chinese cells into the U.S. The review called for tariffs on Chinese cells to be reduced, and assuming the final decision doesn’t stray too far from the review, GTM Research expects U.S. module prices to fall to 64 cents per watt this year.

2. High-efficiency module technologies are gaining steam.

According to GTM Research’s Shyam Mehta, the shift is “driven by the increased value proposition of high efficiency relative to module costs, an end-market mix shift toward rooftop applications, and reduced all-in costs for high-efficiency products.”

3. The megawatt-scale solar operations and maintenance (O&M) market still looks like the Wild West.

Dozens of companies are fighting for market share in the operations and maintenance market, from inverter and module manufacturers to developers and EPCs (engineering, procurement and construction). Everyone wants a piece of the O&M (Operations & Maintenance) pie.

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4. Grid integration is becoming an increasing focus for inverter manufacturers.

Inverter manufacturers are beginning to design solutions to help alleviate some of the integration challenges facing utilities. The chart below highlights a few markets with high PV penetration relative to electricity generating capacity.

5. Net energy metering is becoming popular outside of the U.S.

Net energy metering has helped grow distributed generation PV markets in the United States, and other countries have started to take notice. GTM Research’s Adam James highlights a few NEM (Net Energy Metering) proposals across three continents that aren’t North America.

6. More than 4 gigawatts of utility-scale solar have been procured outside of RPS requirements in the past twelve months.

GTM Research’s Cory Honeyman attributes the success of projects outside RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) guidelines to utility-scale PV’s competitiveness with natural-gas alternatives.

7. Best-in-class residential solar will be installed for less than $3 per watt this year.

The largest cost difference between best-in-class installers and the rest of the market comes from labor and supply chain savings.

8. Loans are the hottest thing in U.S. residential solar.

As reported last year, the market share for residential solar leases peaked in 2014 as loans have emerged and shifted the market back toward direct ownership. Solar Analyst Nicole Litvak developed a taxonomy of companies offering residential solar loans in the U.S.

 

Citation: Munsel, M. (2015, January 22). The Most Important Trends in Solar 8 Charts. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/The-Most-Important-Trends-in-Solar-in-8-Charts

Lower Austria’s New Year Resolution: 100 Percent of Electricity from Renewable Energy by 2015

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Lower Austria Minister for Energy Dr. Stephan Pernkopf stated that “We want to achieve this goal together.”

This year, the province of Lower Austria wants to become powered  by 100% renewables, that is, by water, wind, biomass and solar power.

“Power saving is important because every kilowatt hour saved must not be generated. The more people support the energy movement in Lower Austria, the faster we will reach our goal, ” said Lower Austria Minister for Energy Dr. Stephan Pernkopf.

Dr. Herbert Greisberger, Managing Director of Energy and Environment Agency Northeast, adds, “Even small resolutions have big impacts, even if it is simply avoiding standby power, using less television, or exchanging a light bulb for LEDs.”

Thousands of Lower Austrian citizens are already active, and not just in the electricity sector. Many have upgraded the energy efficiency of their homes, are using solar thermal energy for heating water, and have installed solar PV or biomass systems for space heating. Citizens can visit the Power Saving Family website to learn how to generate energy efficiently, to see samples of projects in their own region, and to see in real time the amount of power being generated in Lower Austria by various renewable sources at www.energiebewegung.at/.  Whoever resolves today to save power today wins twice tomorrow. Citizens who support the goal by saving energy have a chance to win various incentives, such as high efficiency LED lights. Details (in German) are at : www.energiebewegung.at/stromsparvorsatz2015/.

Citation: Maier, J. (2014, December 30). 100 Percent of Electricity from Renewable Energy. Retrieved from http://www.noe.gv.at/Presse/Pressedienst/Pressearchiv/115027_Energie-.html

Africa’s Largest Solar Farm is Fully Operational

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The Jasper solar farm, located near Kimberley in South Africa, is now the continent’s largest solar power project. Construction was completed in October, and it is now fully operational. With a rated capacity of 96 megawatts, Jasper will produce about 180,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy annually for South African residents, enough to power up to 80,000 homes.

What makes this even better is that Japser won’t stay the biggest solar project for long. In the same area, in South-Africa, near the 75-megawatt Lesedi project that came online last May, a 100-megawatt concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) project called Redstone is also under construction.

Look at that scale. The Jasper Project generated about 1 million man-hours of paid work during construction, peaking at over 800 on-site construction jobs.

South Africa has a goal of having 18 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, so projects like this are definitely steps in the right direction. If there’s one thing that South Africa has lots of, it’s sunlight!

45% of the total project value was spent on “local content” to help increase the positive economic impact on the area.

The project was developed by a consortium consisting of Solar Reserve, the Kensani Group (an experienced empowerment investment player in South Africa), and Intikon Energy (a South African developer of renewable energy projects).

Financing came from local and international sources, including Google and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), Intikon Energy, Kensani Capital Investments, the PEACE Humansrus Community Trust, and Solar Reserve with Rand Merchant Bank.

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Citation: Richard, M. (2014, December 17). Africa’s largest solar farm (325,480 PV modules) is now fully operational! Retrieved December 20, 2014, from http://www.solarreserve.com/what-we-do/pv-development/jasper/