Welcome to the age of the sun rush. Solar power installations had another massive year last year – growing by 50% year on year.

That growth is mostly down to the USA and China. But the shift to solar and other renewables is a broader, global trend. The industry is scaling up and becoming more efficient all the time. In 2015, global capacity grew by 50 gigawatts. According to figures released this week, last year capacity grew by 76gw.

It’s too early to say what’ll happen this year. It has started raining in California at last, which might have more of a dampening effect on the market than you’d think. That’s speculation for now though.

But while we’re indulging ourselves, let’s speculate as to whether this year’s figure will top 100gw. If that’s the case, you’d be looking at solar capacity doubling in two years. Again. That kind of growth is exponential. I’m not sure if there’s a Moore’s Law equivalent for solar power, but if there is, it’ll tell you a lot about the way the world will generate energy over the coming decades.

If you’re still not convinced that you need to take solar power seriously, if those growth figures don’t make you sit up and realise this is a trend that’s going to change the world… well, I give up!

Eoin Treacy, Andrew Lockley and I spent a lot of time last year writing about this trend. Everything is playing out more or less as we predicted. I’m not sure what else we can do to make you realise how important this is. Global capacity has grown from 50gw in 2010 to 305gw last year. That’s a 700% increase. It shows no sign of slowing down. It’s the age of the Sun Rush!

I’ll leave it there. I know that some people just seem hell bent on dismissing ideas like this. Perhaps the idea of disruptive change on this scale is scary. I don’t know. If you’re with us though, and you want to get some idea of how it will change the world and how to invest in it… you should watch this presentation.

 

A bot for everything

The world’s first robot lawyer strikes again!

You might remember this story from last year. If not, don’t worry. Here’s a primer. Joshua Browder is a 20 year old computer programmer who developed a computer programme capable of helping you fight unwarranted parking tickets.

It was a real success. Browder was named as one of the world’s brightest entrepreneurs under 30 by Forbes. (You can read our interview with him from last year here if you like.)

Now Browder is expanding the remit of his work. His mission is to have “a bot for everything”. Not great if you’re a lawyer. But fantastic if you want easy access to free legal advice that gets results. Which, of course, is the argument for all automation: it makes the end product cheaper and more easily accessible for the consumer.

The latest incarnation of the robotic lawyer is dedicated to helping asylum seekers in the US, Canada and UK. The bot provides answers to questions on Facebook chat. “I originally started with parking tickets and delayed flights and all sorts of trivial consumer rights issues,” Browder said. “But then I began to be approached by these non-profits and lawyers who said the idea of automating legal services is bigger than just a few parking fines. So I’ve since tried to expand into doing something more humanitarian.”

To me, this is the massive upside of automation. Again, it’s a scary trend that people don’t like to think about. Disruptive change IS scary. But it can also help improve the world. Generally people’s opinions on it depend on who is being disrupted. In this case it is the legal profession. I doubt many people will be out on the streets protesting against that.

It comes down to how the disruption affects the vast majority of people. Most people aren’t lawyers, but do get parking tickets. In that case it’s viva la automation! Automate another skill, like driving, and far more people are on the wrong end of the disruption. Then it’s: send the coders to the tower!

There are certain professions that people would be delighted to see automated, because they’re expensive, slow and inefficient. Think of something like buying a house. It takes forever. The fees are complex and expensive. And it’s highly inefficient: when I bought my house, our solicitors didn’t seem interested in getting a move on until we called up and tried to generate a bit of urgency. It’s ripe for automation.

Imagine that: a cheaper, faster, more efficient way of buying a house. That’s the kind of automation people would get behind, because they’d immediately see the benefit. If there are any budding computer programmers out there, you can have that idea on me.

Stupid robots, stupid tax

Here’s an idea though. If we automated parts of the legal profession and replaced people with machines… do you think those machines should still pay tax? If a solicitor on £50,000 is replaced by a robot that doesn’t get paid a wage, should it still be taxed?

Bill Gates thinks so. In his world, that £50k of taxable income is “lost”. The state should tax the robot – which will just make the service the robot performs more expensive for the consumer, so really it’s another way of taxing people.

I think it’s a stupid idea. What about you? I’m on nick@southbankresearch.com. I’ll ask the other Nick (Nick Hubble) to publish the most interesting/provocative responses next week.

Learn to trade in four days

By the way, have you registered for next week’s special training event yet? If you’re a trader, or want to learn to trade without worrying about leverage, spread betting or technical analysis, it’ll be right up your street.

We’re hosting a four part training session. It’s all online. And it’s free. But you need to register your place before Sunday to reserve a spot. We’ve already had thousands of people sign up. You can learn more and confirm your place here.

Until next time,

Nick O’Connor
Associate Publisher, Capital & Conflict

P.S. Today we focused mostly on the capital element of our brief. What about the conflict?

You may not have seen reports of this, but there’s an interesting geopolitical situation developing in Afghanistan. The US military claims it has evidence that China is conducting joint military operations within the country. Both China and Afghanistan deny this.

“We know that they are there, that they are present,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.

In the aftermath of the US election, the world seems fixated on US/Russian relations. But that ignores the fact that Chinese/US relations are probably much more important. The balance of economic, diplomatic and military power between the two nations is critical. And don’t forget, Trump was highly aggressive in his rhetoric on China in the election. More on this story as we get it.