Quantcast
Energy

This One Chart Says It All for the Future of Solar Energy

One graphic says so much about how far solar has come and how bright its future looks.

A friend and former colleague—my business partner from when I worked in solar—recently shared a graph showing the drop in the prices of solar panels and the growth in worldwide installations of solar.

Photo credit: Treehugger

My buddy pointed out where prices stood at the beginning of the period shown in the graph, 40 years ago; what panels cost when he launched operations in one Latin American country 30 years ago; and where things were when he and I launched another operation a decade later. And he mentioned the incredibly low price he had paid, just the day before, for modules to feed one of those operations.

Those declining cost numbers—the steady move toward lower and lower prices for solar panels—tell an amazing story about an industry that has been relentless in its pursuit of relevance, in its drive to become a mainstream power option. The steady ramp-up in solar installation numbers shows how successful that effort’s been.

How Green is My Valley

The juxtaposition of the two data streams hints at the virtuous cycle fueled by policies that have driven more installations, cost drops that have resulted from greater scale, new policies made possible by lower prices, more installations, even lower costs, …

What struck me in looking at those data was the valley nature of the graphs together.

As a former entrepreneur, I’m acutely aware of the “valley of death” in business. Not the Psalm 23 type and not the version that awaits the unfortunates in a Tennyson-style Light Brigade charge. In business, it refers to the valley (sometimes wide and deep) between a business venture’s proof of concept and its commercial success.

What I see in the solar graphic, by contrast, is a story of progress and achievement. A picture of ruddy health, of success. A valley of life, if you will.

That’s not to say that individual solar companies won’t have troubles along the way (SunEdison’s bankruptcy, for example) or that individual solar projects won’t hit some speed bumps (as in the recent mishap at the otherwise impressive Ivanpah CSP facility).

Photo credit: GRID Alternatives

But solar’s valley of life is such a powerful topographical feature that it’s worth keeping in mind as we think about technologies and options for cleaning up our energy, about how well policies and innovation and customers and companies can fit together when the stars align.

Solar is now an important contributor not just to the power grid in leading states, but also to economic development and job creation. And, thanks to cost reductions, state policies and the extension of the important federal tax credits for it and other renewables, solar is set to have another record-breaking year in the U.S. in 2016.

So the valley of life seems set to keep getting deeper, as solar costs and prices continue to drop and taller, as solar installations soar.

Those price drops help my old colleagues and the rest of the solar industry, do their thing and helps in the important work of expanding solar’s reach. And all that in turn helps us to move toward the clean energy mix that will serve us all so well economically, security-wise, environmentally.

The solar valley sure seems like a landscape feature worth embracing. To life!

John Rogers is a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (S.C.U.T.E) unearthed three baby loggerheads after a nest inventory at Pawleys Island beach. Lorraine Chow

Sea Turtle Population Rebounding But Many Threats Remain

A new study published in Science Advances has found that most global sea turtles populations are recovering after historical declines.

The results from the analysis suggest that conservation programs actually work, and why we must defend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that protects vulnerable plants and animals, and is currently under attack by political and business interests.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
www.youtube.com

Baby Rhino Brings New Hope to India’s Manas National Park

A baby rhino spotted alongside its mother in Manas National Park, located in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, is an encouraging new sign that the rhino population in the protected area is on the upswing. The mother, named Jamuna, was rescued as a calf from Kaziranga National Park, located about 200 miles east of Manas and raised at the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, a facility that cares for injured or orphaned wild animals run by Wildlife Trust of India/International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Assam Forest Department. She was moved to the Manas in 2008 as part of the country's rhino conservation efforts.

The calf is her second since 2013—a positive indication that despite concerns due to poaching of mature males, rhinos in Manas are reproducing.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Cedar Mesa Valley of the Gods in the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. Bob Wick, BLM

Navajo Nation Readies Legal Action if Trump Shrinks Bears Ears National Monument

Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's recommendation to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah could spark a legal battle between the Navajo Nation and the Trump administration.

"We are prepared to challenge immediately whatever official action is taken to modify the monument or restructure any aspect of that, such as the Bears Ears Commission," Ethel Branch, Navajo Nation attorney general, told Reuters.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Jilson Tiu / Greenpeace

Nestlé, Unilever, P&G Among Worst Offenders for Plastic Pollution in Philippines Beach Audit

A week-long beach clean up and audit at Freedom Island in Manila Bay has exposed the companies most responsible for plastic pollution in the critical wetland habitat and Ramsar site—one of the worst locations for plastic pollution in the Philippines.

The Greenpeace Philippines and #breakfreefromplastic movement audit, the first of its kind in the country, revealed that Nestlé, Unilever and Indonesian company PT Torabika Mayora are the top three contributors of plastic waste discovered in the area, contributing to the 1.88 million metric tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste in the Philippines per year.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO
www.youtube.com

Arkansas Plant Board Backs Dicamba Ban Next Summer in Blow to Monsanto

The Arkansas Plant Board has approved new regulations that prohibit the use of dicamba from April 16 through Oct. 31, 2018 after receiving nearly 1,000 complaints of pesticide misuse in the state.

Arkansas, which temporarily banned the highly volatile weedkiller in July, could now face legal action from Monsanto, the developers of dicamba-resistant soybeans or cotton and the corresponding pesticide, aka the Xtend crop system.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Crews cleanup a spill from the Rover pipeline near the Tuscrawas River in southern Stark County. Ohio EPA

Ohio EPA Hikes Fines Against Rover Pipeline to $2.3 Million

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the state attorney general's office Wednesday to hold the owners of the troubled Rover natural gas pipeline responsible for $2.3 million dollars in fines. Rover leaked more than 2 million gallons of drilling mud into protected Ohio wetlands this spring, leading the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order a halt to construction.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Diego Cambiaso / Flickr

White House Considers Green Rebrand

The White House convened a "big-picture" strategy meeting on climate and environment this week, Politico reported.

At the meeting, deputy-level White House officials and representatives from agencies discussed how to frame President Trump's larger environmental objectives beyond simply overturning Obama-era regulations. Per Politico, meeting attendees considered the possibility of highlighting job creation and new energy technology and "how to combat the public perception that the administration is out of touch with climate science."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
iStock

How Trump Could Undermine the U.S. Solar Boom

By Llewelyn Hughes and Jonas Meckling

Tumbling prices for solar energy have helped stoke demand among U.S. homeowners, businesses and utilities for electricity powered by the sun. But that could soon change.

President Donald Trump—whose proposed 2018 budget would slash support for alternative energy—may get a new opportunity to undermine the solar power market by imposing duties that could increase the cost of solar power high enough to choke off the industry's growth.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox