The price of solar is falling faster than experts expected

What Tech Is Next for the Solar Industry?:

The technology that’s surprised almost everyone is conventional crystalline silicon. A few years ago, silicon solar panels cost $4 per watt, and Martin Green, professor at the University of New South Wales and one of the leading silicon solar panel researchers, declared that they’d never go below $1 a watt. “Now it’s down to something like 50 cents of watt, and there’s talk of hitting 36 cents per watt,” he says.

While small changes to the way solar panels are responsible for much of this price drop – things like being able to print the ultra-fine wires used to connect the cells in a panel and cells that can absorb sunlight from both the front and back – the biggest change is going to be the introduction of different semiconductors in the cells themselves:

Even longer-term, Green is betting on silicon, aiming to take advantage of the huge reductions in cost already seen with the technology. He hopes to greatly increase the efficiency of silicon solar panels by combining silicon with one or two other semiconductors, each selected to efficiently convert a part of the solar spectrum that silicon doesn’t convert efficiently. Adding one semiconductor could boost efficiencies from the 20 to 25 percent range to around 40 percent. Adding another could make efficiencies as high as 50 percent feasible, which would cut in half the number of solar panels needed for a given installation.

Silicon Valley and “innovation”

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“The hypocrisy in Silicon Valley’s big talk on innovation”:

None of this argues for government keeping its nose out of the business of innovation, it makes the case for it taking a leading role – for leveraging its unique position to address these obvious market failures. Only governments had the long view and available cash to fund things like supercolliders, deep space programs and – oh yeah – the development of the Internet.

The tragedy is the United States has defunded many such ambitious research efforts in recent years, amid a climate of deficit paranoia, antitax rhetoric and general government bashing – sometimes by the very people who made fortunes off its creations.

It’s not enough to just release better products each year. If the United States is to remain at the forefront of research and technology, innovation needs to be a national priority. That means funding the scientists and engineers working on the cool technologies of twenty years from now, not cutting spending and hoping that Bay Area execs will take some time off from figuring out how to profit from you posting pictures of your cat in order to go cure cancer.

You’d think the people profiting off of the Internet would get that.