Posted by ricardo borges on February 2nd, 2009
Welcome to the Solar Cell corner.
In this inaugural post, it seems appropriate to reflect on the developments in the photovoltaic industry in 2008 and the prospects for 2009 and beyond, bracketed, on the one hand, by an insidious financial crisis that is curbing investment in many sectors of the economy and, on the other hand, by a continuous awareness and inertia to pursue renewable energy sources. Walking the halls of the Intersolar show in San Francisco this past July, which according to the organizers welcomed 13,000 visitors, the mood was decidedly optimistic. Shortly after, the full brunt of the banking crisis hit. As Congress debated emergency measures to rescue our banking system, Congressional Leaders provided the solar industry with a long sought impetus by extending the solar investment tax credits (ITC). When H.R. 1424, apply named the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, was signed into law in October, it contained an 8 year extension of a 30-percent tax credit for commercial and residential solar installations. It also abolished the previous 2,000 USD cap on residential installations, allowing individual taxpayers to take full advantage of the 30-percent tax credit. This point is crucial because with typical residential installations costing 15,000 USD or more, a 30-percent credit is substantially more than the previous cap of 2,000 USD. These provisions in H.R. 1424 were duly recognized by the keynote speakers at the Solar Power International held in San Diego at the end of October. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s emphatic “… the prospects for solar energy have never been brighter,” was matched by other speakers, among them General Wesley Clark who expounded on the now pervasive theme of the need for greater energy independence for the United States.
Yet market incentives, widely viewed as critical for an industry with production costs still several times higher than its carbon-based competitors, and technical progress, with innovative solutions for higher conversion efficiency and lower manufacturing costs reported every week, are but two components of the proverbial three-legged stool needed for mainstream deployment of solar generated power. The third leg is the refurbishing of our national electric grid to allow efficient electricity flow from the geographically blessed Sunbelt – Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, etc – to the rest of the country. For this third leg, Washington’s largess may once again play the critical role as President Obama has called repeatedly for large scale infrastructural fixes to the electric grid as part of the currently debated economic recovery package.
And so, while it is always wise to keep in mind Niels Bohr’s adage “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” conditions for the furtherance of solar energy have never been better, due not only to all the steady technical progressed achieved in the last three decades but, perhaps most importantly, because of the growing awareness of the urgent need to mitigate carbon emissions.