This fall’s Solar Power 2007 Conference in Long Beach, Calif., was a real eye opener.
For one thing, it was the first time I felt underdressed at a solar conference! I’ve been going to solar conferences since the early 1980s, and most were noted for their ragtag conglomeration of mission-passionate solar pioneers with stars in their eyes. At this event — the third largest ever, behind SolFest and the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair — it was all suits. In place of mom-and-pop solar businesses were billion dollar companies like SunPower, QCell, Sharp Solar, Kyocera, Conergy, and SunTech.
Watching Whole Earth Catalog Founder Stewart Brand interview CNN maven Ted Turner on a plenary stage was a real treat for me — and an especially unique juxtaposition of the last 40 years of innovation. Ted commented that we should be dropping solar panels on Iraq instead of bombs.
But most of all, I took away facts and figures that confirm my sense that the floodgates are about to break open in solar power:
- Photovoltaic (PV, or solar electric) has been growing 70% – 80% annually in the U.S.
- While today the planet gets one tenth of 1% of our power from solar, by 2030 we will get 30% of our power from solar; and by 2100 we will get 70% of our power from solar.
- The silicon shortage — which has led major PV manufacturers to limit supplies, playing havoc for many small installers — will be over in about two years as manufacturers perfect PV modules that use less silicon: thinner wafers, thin film technologies, concentrators, and metallurgic grade silicon.
The PV market right now is where home computers were in the late 1970’s and cell phones were in the late 1990’s. It’s both gratifying to be a pioneer in this industry (Real Goods sold the first PV module in America back in 1978) and daunting to see the tidal wave coming so quickly. In the long run it’s just what we need if we’re to have a chance to mitigate global warming. But we need to put equal effort into limiting demand (through energy conservation) as we are into expanding supply.
For the Earth,