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Can a NYT article on solar power never mention either global warming or high fossil fuel prices?

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"Can a NYT article on solar power never mention either global warming or high fossil fuel prices?"

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Okay, so that is a rhetorical question, thanks to today’s business story, “Silicon Valley Starts to Turn Its Face to the Sun.” Perhaps people will stop claiming that blogs are the place where information is presented with no context. Some day.

pv-growth.gifAnyone reading the NYT article would be left with the decided impression that solar power has been waiting on the sidelines for Silicon Valley to make it a success:

… some of the valley’s best brains are captivated by the challenge, and they hope to put the development of solar technologies onto a faster track.

A faster track? As BP notes, the “Ten-year average annual growth rate was 31%” for photovoltaic capacity. Growth exceeded 40% in 2004 and 2005. The only power source with growth that is even comparable is wind power.

I have great hopes that Silicon Valley can help keep PV on this fast track, but solar is already le train a grande vitesse, n’est-ce pas? Pardon my French.

While technology development is critical — and the US Federal Government has played an important role here for decades — most of the PV generation capacity growth has been in Japan and Germany, driven primarily by government incentives that are scarce in this country.

The article, which is somewhat informative for solar newbies, unfortunately ends by saying

The fear of a solar bubble is legitimate, but … solar energy may gain traction [!] because of a simpler rule than Moore’s Law: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Yeah, solar may gain traction … some day … if people have the will….

NOTE to NYT: Solar has gained traction already. And futher growth won’t be driven by “will,” it will be driven by, uhh, the growing consensus on the need to price carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming and, uhh, record high energy prices that will no doubt be even higher in a decade, coupled with technology improvements and mass production techniques, some (but probably not most) of which will come from Silicon Valley. But I guess the real story is not sexy enough for the Gray Lady.

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4 Responses to Can a NYT article on solar power never mention either global warming or high fossil fuel prices?

  1. Hal says:

    Joe,
    Where is the best source for the basic numbers and latest info on PV such as
    – $/peak kW installed
    – range of costs for different installed solar PV technologies now available including small scale (residential rooftop), commercial building (>10 kW) and power plant or industrial/manufacturing on-site power (>1 MW)
    – latest news on thin cell
    – roof tile or vertical wall components and systems
    – the most promising technologies under development and their potential ranges of solar conversion efficiencies and $ costs/peak kW
    – other critical info on the future of PV, in the U.S. and globally

    Thanks,

    Hal

  2. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a gloomy take on it all, including solar:

    http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/

  3. John Mashey says:

    Not a great article, and Zachary clearly seems new to this topic, and I might have picked one or two other people to talk to [Like Dick Swanson, CTO of Sunpower and Charlie gay of Applied Materials.]

    However, it is *definitely* true that some people here think they can put solar on “a faster track” by reducing costs and making manufacturing easier, and it’s not a comparison with growth rates of other technologies, it’s because the same people also talk about climate change, peak oil, and efficiency issues and they think we need to do everything we can to accelerate solar power [and also, in parallel, energy storage].

    Low-hanging-fruit efficiency measures tend mostly to be outside VC investment boundaries, but VCs are always looking for fundable efficiency-oriented startups [I've helped several companies get funded whose products are used this way]. It is also the case that the computing community here is working very hard on energy-savings, not just in low-power computers, but for data center design and operational improvements. We devoted a half a day to that at the 2008 Hot Chips conference at Stanford.

    The most irksome thing to me was the confusion over Moore’s Law, which has almost nothing to do with solar cell efficiency improvements.

    For something more useful, see Applied Materials’ page:

    http://www.appliedmaterials.com/news/solar_strategy.html

    and look at the Webcast / presentations, which might address some of Hal’s Q’s.

    Improvements come, not from finer lithography [i.e., Moore's Law], but from improved materials and manufacturing processes, and what AMAT is doing is more related to flat-panel display manufacturing than to microprocessor or DRAM manufacturing.

    Starting from Bell Labs’s 1954 solar cells, if people *could* have done Moore’s Law improvements in energy efficiency, we’d have few energy worries. [Of course, we'd have had to break laws of physics. :-)]

  4. Jim Prall says:

    In reply to the first question from Hal:
    The comprehensive overview of the solar industry and PV module prices that I count on is:
    http://www.solarbuzz.com
    They’ve been maintaining an historic price index for a number of years, based on their monthly survey of vendor’s stated prices. They have a detailed listing of the companies that make wafers, cells, and modules, and they aggegate industry news and commentary.
    For technical info on PV research, as well as another very thorough index of industry info, I also like Photon International magazine’s website at
    http://www.photon-magazine.com