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.

Let’s switch from gasoline to natural gas

The Second Coming | Foreign Policy:

Compressed-natural-gas vehicles and electric vehicles — one-third of U.S. electricity is currently generated from natural gas — are slowly making their way into the marketplace. But battery-powered cars remain prohibitively expensive for most car buyers. A natural gas-derived liquid fuel called methanol (wood alcohol), however, is both substantially less expensive than gasoline on a per-mile basis and very cheap to enable on the vehicle side — roughly $100 extra per new car.

Essentially, all that is needed for a regular car to be a flexible-fuel car are a fuel sensor and a corrosion-resistant fuel line. In some provinces of China, where methanol is made primarily from coal, this alcohol is sold at numerous fuel stations. This logic is one thing even Iran and Israel can agree on: Both natural gas-rich countries have plans to begin selling methanol-based fuel at gas stations.

I believe that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is going to be a very incremental process. The infrastructure just isn’t there to switch from coal and natural gas to solar and wind and the myriad other renewable options in even a few years. Washington isn’t willing to spend the money to make it happen faster. If we can switch from gasoline to natural gas-based methanol in a few years and save drivers money at the pump and not have to subsidize anything, I’m willing to accept not reducing carbon as quickly as we’d like.