2020: Evolution or Revolution
Are there always protests in Berkeley? In all fairness, you have to admire their passion for their causes. I recently visited the city to attend the fourth annual UC Berkeley Energy Symposium. The symposium, hosted by the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC) - an interdisciplinary, student-run organization - was a successful and substantive event! The theme 2020: Envisioning the Future of Global Energy sparked good conversation from industry and academia leaders who discussed topics such as Green Jobs: Myth or Reality (a definite reality – check out fab2farm for how this unique solar model has the potential to develop thousands of green jobs and deliver billions in economic activity) and Financing the Clean Energy Boom (more capital please and we need it now!).
Of particular interest was the discussion on Solar PV: Grid Parity by 2020 where Dr. Ken MacWilliams, Applied Materials’ Vice President of Technology and New Products for our c-Si division provided insights on activities slated to increase efficiency, enable cost reductions and scale in solar manufacturing - all key factors in achieving grid parity. Other panelists spoke optimistically about the possibility of $1.00 - $1.10/watt production costs in the near term. The audience concurred and were proceeding in lockstep until the following question was asked: should governments stop subsidizing solar until next generations of technology? Controversial? Oh wait, I’m in Berkeley so I wondered if this was the beginning of another protest.
Fortunately, the panelists were composed in their response. One panelist noted that without subsidies, Germany would not have reached its current scale and Japan would still be a nascent market for solar. Another panelist pointed out that the oil industry has received subsidies since time eternal. So yes, subsidies are still needed to enable continued growth of the solar industry. What about technology breakthroughs? Not necessary. The panelists all agreed that the industry should focus on evolutionary vs. revolutionary technology. Specifically, focus on increasing efficiency, scale and productivity while reducing costs will have a greater impact than introducing disruptive technology.
But what if we had used a Berkeley approach to get our point across? How’s this for a protest: no subsidies, no peace? Or should that be: call in Green Peace?