Solar’s Future Is So Bright… But Clouds Are In The Forecast


Publish Date:
June 6, 2017
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Last week, President Donald Trump announced that the United States will be pulling out of the Paris climate accord. The move comes as a blow to alternative energy advocates who see green power as the most sustainable and environmentally responsible way forward.

But by many accounts, solar power is already growing. Fast. According to one report, solar jobs have grown about 17 times faster than America’s overall economy.


Robert Bryce, Senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; author of “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future”

Allison Clements, Founder, goodgrid; former senior attorney in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Energy & Transportation Group

Dan Reicher, Executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University; former assistant secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under President Clinton

Dan Conant, Founder, Solar Holler

Why is solar hot right now?

Dan Reicher: I think it’s hot for a variety of reasons. One is that the price has gone down so dramatically. It was really a technology not ready for prime time not too many years ago, and with this price drop it can work increasingly competitively with a variety of traditional sources. We also have states driving it through requirements for deploying renewable energy and we also have federal tax incentives, which have helped in the massive deployment of solar over the last several years.

Interview Highlights

What has changed in solar technology in the last few decades?

Dan Reicher: We’ve made huge progress. The only place that was cost-effective in the 1960s, in a sense, was in outer space where you pay any amount to have a little bit of electricity. But we’ve literally brought the solar cell — inside of a solar — down to earth. And over time it has become increasingly cost competitive and a lot of that is a result of real breakthroughs in the laboratory, [in] laboratories all over the world. Much of the R&D [is] in the United States, but increasingly countries like China [are] getting very, very aggressive in the R&D world. And what that means is, we can produce more electricity from a given cell — what’s called solar cell efficiency has gone up dramatically. And we can also produce the cells and the panels in which they sit much more cheaply than we used to be able to do.

Is China the world leader in solar?

Dan Reicher: We’ve deployed 40,000 megawatts of solar to date in the U.S. The Chinese have deployed about 80,000 … They manufacture the vast percentage of all the solar panels in the world. We’re just in the couple of percent in the U.S., they’re in the many, many tens of percents in terms of their manufacturing. The place where we have led for decades is in R&D because as I said, we invented solar at the Bell Labs in the 1950s, but just a year ago the Chinese broke an R&D record for solar cell efficiency of one of the most important types of solar cells … We still have huge struggles in R&D but we need to nurture it. That’s where federal investment in R&D becomes so important.

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