Monday, November 7, 2011

A Solar Moore's Law

A friend of mine sent me an interesting article about a "Moore's Law of solar cell efficiency" this morning. The main takeaway is this:
Averaged over 30 years, the trend is for an annual 7 percent reduction in the dollars per watt of solar photovoltaic cells.

This is all to the good, of course. Even a solar skeptic like myself wants to see more power options: I'd love for my skepticism to be mistaken. But that's not what interested me.

When you read that article you'll see a graph, showing the cost per watt of solar cells from 1980 to the present. It's a steady downward march. Is there any correlation between that trend and government subsidies or research grants into solar power? I was unable to find any good historical data on that kind of spending: solar is often lumped in with "renewables" that would include wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power.

There's big bucks to be made in solar if the efficiency improves enough, and the recent Solyndra scandal shows that the government isn't so good at allocating research and development dollars. Maybe it's time to see if this solar Moore's Law can sustain itself without throwing tax dollars at it? Just a thought.


  1. As you well know, I am with you. Lets remove subsidies on solar/renewable AND stop subsidizing the highly profitable oil/gas/nuclear industries.

    Krugman makes the point that Solyndra's chief problem was the downward march of per/kw prices. In the several year trajectory, the decline was great enough that it foiled the business.

    I'm only repeating what I read in the papers. And you know what they said about that.

    Point taken on government picking winners and losers. There was a long profile(in the nytimes)of the fight to get a new anthrax vaccine chosen by DOD/coordinating agencies. As you would imagine, problems. Money wasted. No good solution still.

  2. Sure, I'm for removing all energy subsidies as well. (But they should also not levy windfall profit taxes.)

    It doesn't really matter to me why Solyndra failed; the point is that the government blew half a billion tax dollars on it. That shouldn't have happened.