The collapse of Evergreen and Solyndra has accelerated a backlash among Republicans drunk on fossil fuels, with states with GOP governors seeking to reverse field on renewables and the party licking its chops for an industry scandal that might topple the Administration.
Fact is, solar is a boom-and-bust market. Last year was a boom. This year looks like a bust, due to overproduction of last year's model panels, mainly by Chinese companies eager to bury foreign competitors. The U.S. is soaking up much of this capacity with 24 GW in non-residential solar projects now in the pipeline
Few remember this but the Japanese were killing the U.S. in PCs almost a quarter-century ago. Two things stopped them. The Japanese stock market crashed in 1987 but, more important, technology changed as Dell Computer used just-in-time manufacturing and parts sourcing to eliminate the time lag between production and sales.
Solar technology is also changing, rapidly. It is this innovation that will see off the Chinese challenge. Not all these relate directly to the efficiency or cost of solar, but they add up.
Konarka is developing its “power plastic” in Germany for use as an integrated ingredient in steel buildings.
Arizona State is installing “power parasols” on parking lots, aiming to get 40% of its peak load electricity from solar power. Such architectural innovation takes solar out of arable fields into suburbs and back into cities, so less power is lost in transmission and the “heat island” effect of parking is reduced.
Southwest Solar Technologies has completed testing of a solar turbine which uses solar heat to heat air and spin a turbine to create electricity. It can be combined with natural gas to eliminate the problem of intermittent power.
Solar Power Technologies of Austin is creating a system to add analytics to solar systems, so you can know when to clean and service them, maintaining efficiency at the highest possible level.
Just about every week I find stories like this, and they add up. Like any tech market, solar technology is evolving rapidly, and will continue to evolve rapidly. That's tough for a company that commits to a technology that becomes obsolete, but it's the sign of a growing industry.