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Solar Critics Presume No Change

Mar 23, 2011

One of the more amusing artifacts of reading solar energy critics is their assumption that technology can't, or won't change.

Take the anonymous (they'll give out the name to clients, they swear) contributor to Gerson Lehman Group, a "council of experts" on-call to big institutions, who recently claimed solar's ascendency has no relation to nuclear's growth after the 1970s oil shock and solar stocks are going down hard.

The evidence? Installation costs are currently higher than for wind or geothermal power. Capacity utilization is low compared with nuclear. Wind and heat from the Earth are just as abundant as solar heat.

Really? Really.

The policy aim of this trolling is clear. It's programs like SunShot, which is an incubator program, like Georgia's 30 year old ATDC.  These programs give risky ventures a little aid, but also tell them to sink-or-swim.

Many swim. Abound Solar is a successful graduate of that incubator. Stion is using the incubator to test its stacking of thin-film modules. Crystal Solar is working with silicon modules that are one-fourth as thick as current ones. Solexant is looking to build thin films out of non-toxic materials, and Caelux thinks it can both boost the efficiency of cells while at the same time reducing their costs.

Any one of these breakthroughs could revolutionize the industry. Most won't work out. But that's how science and progress work. Some will succeed. Lower costs and higher yields are coming.

Every chart I've seen shows we can power the world hundreds of times over on solar energy, that it's far more abundant than wind or Earth energy. Installation costs are high for a lot of reasons, one of which is a lack of permitting standards, an issue many are working to resolve. Capacity utilitization is being addressed by new technology.

Actually it's new technology in general  that's the answer to this “expert's” nonsense. Here are some more breakthroughs I discovered in just a few minutes with Google News:

I put in that last one to illustrate an important point. Leading in the realm of solar technology is crucial to our economic competitiveness. Other countries are working on solutions that could trump us, unless we keep innovating.

There are many dimensions to innovation. Installation. Replacement of wall power on low-power devices. Types of solar materials. Manufacturing costs. It's not just about efficiency, although there are breakthroughs coming there as well.

On second thought, it's probably for the best that this GLC troll remain anonymous. If we saw his/her face we would laugh the troll right out of the room. Better stay under their bridge and remain scary.

The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publicat...


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