A change to my year-end civilization metric

Since I began this blog back in the dark days of September 2011, I’ve listed some “civilization metrics” at the end of each year (2011, 2012, 2013). The motivation comes from enjoying graphs of things like Moore’s Law that always stopped a few years before the time I read them, since the were either a) published before then or b) data was available up to a certain point. My thoughts were “That’s all well and good, but what about right now?”

So the civilization metrics were born, and it’s been a tumultuous infancy (well, as tumultuous as a few statistics at the end of year can be). I want measurements of things that I find interesting that are also somehow indicative of a level of technical sophistication and that are as recent as possible.

I’ve tried to cover several fields at once, such as the number of exoplanets giving a rough state of astronomy or the fastest supercomputer from the Top500 supercomputing list to cover computer engineering. Astronomy has been a bit over-covered, with the now dropped “largest optical telescope” metric (updated too infrequently) and the about-to-be-dropped number of active interplanetary probes (too vague). Before I had the length of the largest known prime to cover “mathematics”, though the updated was too sporadic. Particle physics is covered by the recorded luminosity of the ATLAS experiment (it was a coin toss between ATLAS and CMS, and I worked for a summer in the ATLAS group at the University of Alberta), though shortly after I started the LHC data collection went on a hiatus while they upgraded for Run II. Rounding it off are the number of base pairs in GenBank, giving a state of the amount of data available in genetics which somehow in my brain covers biology, and and an estimate of world population because why not.

As I said, I’m retiring active interplanetary probes, though you can peruse the nice Wikipedia entry on just that topic. I want to cover energy somehow, which I’ve talked about a few times. The trouble is the lag in data, so my one idea for calculating the Kardashev score would have to be for the year prior. I think what I’ll do is “Peak solar power production in the United States” because the EIA’s Electricity Data Browser makes that data really easy to access, and the peak will be in the summer giving enough time to record it for the end of December. For the last few years those numbers have been (in thousand megawatt hours, which to me should be in gigawatt hours):

  • 2010: 176.1
  • 2011: 229.2
  • 2012: 527.1
  • 2013: 1,000.7

All of which occurred in either June or August. The data for 2014 is only available up to March, but that’s already soared past the 2013 peak, being 1,355.0 thousand megawatt hours. It’s starting from a really insignificant baseline, but it’s ramping up fast.

And that’s the way she goes, May 31, 2014.

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