Solar Power has been my pick for the future of alternative, sustainable energy for a while now - years not weeks. China has weighed in on solar by with aggressive trade practices to kill competition, distorting pricing and otherwise upsetting the course of the industry built up around solar power. Its not a walk in the park to see how to invest in this area. Lots of money has been lost already by investors and companies bankrupted....
By PAUL KRUGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES
Updated Monday, November 7, 2011
For decades the story of technology has been dominated, in the popular mind and to a large extent in reality, by computing and the things you can do with it. Moore's Law - in which the price of computing power falls roughly 50 percent every 18 months - has powered an ever-expanding range of applications, from faxes to Facebook.
Our mastery of the material world, on the other hand, has advanced much more slowly. The sources of energy, the way we move stuff around, are much the same as they were a generation ago.
The success story you haven't heard about is Solar Energy
But that may be about to change. We are, or at least we should be, on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power. That's right, solar power.
If that surprises you, if you still think of solar power as some kind of hippie fantasy, blame our fossilized political system, in which fossil fuel producers have both powerful political allies and a powerful propaganda machine that denigrates alternatives.
These days, mention solar power and you'll probably hear cries of "Solyndra!" Republicans have tried to make the failed solar panel company both a symbol of government waste - although claims of a major scandal are nonsense - and a stick with which to beat renewable energy.
But Solyndra's failure was actually caused by technological success: The price of solar panels is dropping fast, and Solyndra couldn't keep up with the competition. In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, "there's now frequent talk of a 'Moore's law' in solar energy," with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.
This has already led to rapid growth in solar installations, but even more change may be just around the corner. If the downward trend continues - and if anything it seems to be accelerating - we're just a few years from the point at which electricity from solar panels becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal.
And if we priced coal-fired power right, taking into account the huge health and other costs it imposes, it's likely that we would already have passed that tipping point.
But will our political system delay the energy transformation now within reach?
A large part of our political class, including essentially the entire GOP, is deeply invested in an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, and actively hostile to alternatives. This political class will do everything it can to ensure subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels, directly with taxpayers' money and indirectly by letting the industry off the hook for environmental costs, while ridiculing technologies like solar.
So what you need to know is that nothing you hear from these people is true; solar is now cost-effective. Here comes the sun, if we're willing to let it in.
Krugman is a columnist for The New York Times.