There was a lot of discussion last week inside The Energy Collective, a group of us who comment online about energy issues, around this New York Times article of July 16 about solar energy.
Because the conversation in The Energy Collective is private, I won't name names, but suffice it to say that reaction was swift and of a voice: the article was misleading and did not address growth prospects for solar, which all agreed could potentially be the most important fuel for reducing carbon while providing the very scale that this article claims is unlikely near-term. As one commenter put it, "It's a superbly ridiculous article - it's like complaining that cell phones were only 1% of the market in 1980 - so what?"
Wisely, it was pointed out that the article ignored solar thermal, which can contribute significantly to reducing carbon emissions in buildings, which alone account for 40% of greenhouse gasses, and where the technologies exist today without massive federal investment.
Everyone was also in agreement that pricing is absolutely key to the success of pv solar, since at the moment, with both the price of credit rising and the cost of pv solar per output remaining much higher than alternatives, there will be no real pv solar alternative without massive government support (as the article implies.) But will this also require some new form of technology for solar, based on a huge, Manhattan Project-style initiative?
Not if, as the panel agrees, the need is immediate and urgent for GHG reduction today. Clearly what is required is a market-based, politically neutral approach mastered at the highest federal level for efficiency and effectiveness of federal investment. What we need is a Robert Rubin-type of market manipulator to put our tax resources to work in the manner that solves both the short, as well as the long, term problems. In this light, solar becomes the market that you support now that will end up providing significant growth in the future, much as Thailand was bailed out in the nineties but now sports one of the highest GDP's in the world.
The final word from our panel:
"PV or some similar form of solar energy - perhaps a process more directly mimicking photosynthesis - is the most logical option for the majority component of the energy mix in the long-term, since it relies most directly on the initial source of energy on the planet (geo-thermal excepted). Wind, biomass, etc. are, after all, effectively diluted solar energy."