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Are microchips a good metaphor for energy?

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Is exponential progress in energy technology a guarantee?

For many years, the development of microprocessors followed a principle called “Moore’s Law”, which stated that the density of semiconductors would double every two years. This meant that our computers got smaller, more efficient, and more affordable at a steady, predictable rate. An entire industry came to depend on this ‘law’ –– until it stopped working.

Nevertheless, the history of computing is increasingly being referenced to imagine a future for clean energy. There have recently been calls for a “Carbon Law” –– one that establishes a roadmap that could lead to climate action through exponential renewable energy development. But is it possible to rely on such steady technological progress, or was Moore’s Law the result of a confluence of social, economic, and technological factors unique to its moment in history?

Future Energy Systems post-doctoral fellow Anne Pasek has recently published an article in Logic which explores that question. 

"Metaphors and analogies help us understand our current situation more easily," she says. "But they can also misguide us."

Anne believes comparing energy transition to other technological changes can provide critical distance from the hype and hopes of predictions for this transition. Rather than only looking to technological success stories, she argues that an understanding of the social, economic, and material factors behind innovation provide the best lessons to apply to the future of energy. 

You can read the piece, “Seeing Carbon Through Silicon", by clicking here


To learn more about Anne's research in Transitions in Energy, Culture, and Society (TECS), click here.