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Say You Want a Revolution

You have heard about Moore's Law, which last month hit its 50th birthday. What would it mean for the energy world?

Moore's Law turned 50 last month. The scientist Gordon Moore 50 years ago predicted - correctly - that the number of transistors that could be fit on a memory chip would double each year.

Think of the number of electronic devices at your command in 1965 versus those within your grasp today - and marvel.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman this week reported on the anniversary and recounted how, at a celebration for Moore, an Intel exec said that his company's memory chips today are 3,500 times as powerful and 90,000 times as energy efficient as its first chips chipped off the assembly line in 1971.

I will let Friedman provide an analogy.

Thomas Friedman, left, with Martin Rosenberg


Writes Friedman: "... Intel engineers did a rough calculation of what would happen had a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle improved at the same rate as microchips did under Moore’s Law: “Here are the numbers: [Today] you would be able to go with that car 300,000 miles per hour. You would get two million miles per gallon of gas, and all that for the mere cost of 4 cents! Now, you’d still be stuck on the [Highway] 101 getting here tonight, but, boy, in every opening you’d be going 300,000 miles an hour!”

No one knows if Moore's law will become immediately applicable to energy. But we have seen solar panel prices plummet in recent years.

When you consider the work of scientists like Don Sadoway, reported elsewhere in this issue of The Energy Times, my journalistic intuition tells me the energy frontier, like the electronics realm in recent decades, is poised for dramatic change.

Or as the Beatles wrote when Moore's law just turned three, "You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world."

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