The amount of solar energy in use will double every 12-18 months for as far out as I can see.
That has come true, and I've applied Moore's name to many other fields where I think it's warranted, where exponential improvements of that type are happening, and where I see them continuing to happen.
I've come in for some stick for that, and maybe Mr. Moore himself is unhappy with me. For that I'm sorry. But I'm no one, he's someone, and his name makes explicable predictions that seem inexplicable. It gets people thinking in new ways about the future, about possibilities. So that's why I do it.
That's a long winded way of saying that Moore's Law of Solar isn't Gordon Moore speaking.
It's important to put down a marker like this down right now, lest the current industry shake-0ut get you down. That shake-out continued apace today when Solyndra announced it was filing under Chapter 11, and expects to go out of business.
It's easy to see my prediction coming true for several reasons:
- Tons of solar energy is going in off-the-grid.
- Solar technology continues to change rapidly.
- Costs continue to decline as technologies scale.
The production of actual panels is not a great business right now, but that's the stage of the market we're at. We don't yet have the industry's version of a PC, something you can just buy, plug in, that will make you money.
What we've got right now are the functional equivalent of mini-computers, only they're made like chips. The basics of the technology aren't set as chips are. The material mix is unclear, the manufacturing process is unclear. Polysilicon, produced with a chip-like technology, is the dominant platform today, but it's tough to raise that technology's efficiency and to reduce its costs.
One important point people ignore. The largest U.S. solar panel producer, First Solar, doesn't use polysilicon. They use cadmium telluride, and have scaled production to 1 gigawatt per factory per year. They're building more factories, and they believe they can tweak the technology to aboug 18% efficiency.
Despite these facts, Chinese companies have rushed into the market with full force, spurred by a government that wants to save its people from suffocating high-sulfur coal pollution which has most cities looking like Pittsburgh, circa 1950. Despite the pain being heard from U.S. producers, they were net exporters to China last year.
A lot of idiots are going to take the failures at Evergreen and Solyndra, both of which took government guarantees to speed production, as proof that solar doesn't work and that the government should not be involved — that we should be building pipelines to Canada and nuclear plants with those guarantees instead. It's true that solar technology is unsettled. Government's role at this point should be on the research end, not production. But within 10 years every dollar the government has or will invest in solar will have a better return than any dollar the government puts into pipelines or nuclear plants.
The current glut is a short-term problem. The current technology is not the final form. But we know it works, we know all sorts of costs are going to come down, we know there are plenty of buyers, that channels continue to develop.