A lot of focus gets put on technological breakthroughs and “potential breakthroughs.” Solar technology is no exception. In fact, it seems that potential solar technology “breakthroughs” get hyped more than almost anything else. The fact is, there’s a lot of solar research going on around the world. Almost everyone in the energy business is aware that solar has a huge future ahead of itself, and there are many people and companies trying to carve out their share of that market.
However, a point lost on many people in between one solar breakthrough story and another is that solar power — the solar technology that’s on the market right now — is already competitive with other electricity options for hundreds of millions of people. Actually, it is cheaper than diesel-fueled electricity all across the developing world; it is cheaper than grid electricity for a large portion of the populace in Australia, Europe, Japan, and the US; and it is competitive with other electricity sources in other markets as well.
Without any breakthroughs, solar technology is already primed to take over the electricity market. It is mostly a matter of awareness and time at this point, as well as the continued, slow chipping away of remaining solar power costs.
Coming back to the “solar breakthrough” hype, I would just add two more things about this:
1) A lot of the hype comes from the way that universities and research institutes write their press releases. Researchers have to justify their work, and everyone wants to bring attention to the broadest and grandest potential implications of their work. Furthermore, universities and research institutes need to come across as deserving of their funding, and often need to attract more. However, the general impact of so much over-hype is actually harmful to society, as it makes people think that solar power isn’t already “ready” and competitive.
2) A lot of “potential breakthroughs” are interesting advancements but are actually never going to make it to the commercial market. That is, they may help one type of solar technology move forward, but that technology may never be competitive with the most competitive/popular types of solar technology. Or the advancement just won’t become cost-competitive itself.
The take-home point for most readers is: don’t be fooled by scientific press release hype; solar power is competitive on the market today.
The take-home point for anyone who writes about or discusses solar research is: be careful not to over-hype it, as doing so is likely a disservice to society.
Originally published on Sustainnovate.