I saw a news article recently on the space walk to do repair and relocation on solar photovoltaic array on the International Space Station.
It reminded me to keep in perspective a bit of energy history. The US basically invented the solar industry to help power the space race. And the industry grew out of that to become a possible solution in the first energy crisis (though still way too early and way too expensive at the time). And we helped keep the industry alive post energy crisis with our off grid market and federal R&D funding.
Now that costs have fallen precipitously, and a wide range of major companies from Sharp and BP to Applied Materials and IBM are in the business to drive costs to the magical grid parity (Cleantech Blog has blogged about this numerous times), it is disappointing to see that the US leadership has fallen victim to stronger government support in newer national entrants like Japan and Germany (which combined have a solar market some 7x larger than ours) who major subsidy programs in place roughly 15 and 5 years ago respectively.
I think it is fair to say that we are not going to regain our leadership in the crystalline silicon end of the business, though perhaps we can make a dent. So perhaps we must look to the growth of thin film technology for our leadership. But there are bright spots on that front.
First Solar – Far and away the market leader on size and cost in thin film today with Cadmium Telluride based technology. Location: Arizona/Ohio
Energy Conversion Devices – Long-time market leader in flexible thin film amorphous silicon. Location: Michigan
Applied Materials – Massive market share in equipment for hybrid thin film/silicon tandem cells which could hammer the crystalline PV business when they hit the market over the next few years. Location: Silicon Valley/Germany and beyond.
Silicon Valley – Hundreds of millions of venture capital investment is pumping in to back amorphous silicon and CIGS technology start ups. Some of them will crack the nut, too.
As usual, when it comes to new technologies and reinventing business – we’ll be leading the way. Let’s not give it up this time.