future clean tech

green business, policy and technology in australia and abroad

The future of solar

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We need to take another look at solar.

The thing I like most about solar is that it’s not (necessarily) a centralised technology. This is an interesting challenge and a big opportunity. And as prices are driven down, as storage technology gets more efficient, and with the right policy incentives, solar could be a significant player even in our relatively small market.

In the US, 1 Block Off The Grid is getting lower solar system prices by grouping together larger groups of consumers, which only shows that one of the biggest obstacles to uptake is the scale of residential solar. Here, some companies are offering effectively free solar installation after government rebates. But in neither country has critical mass been achieved.

My sense for some time has been that solar has been getting a bum rap in Australia. Wind is the ‘it’ technology for a bunch of reasons – for instance, it’s got the advantage of scale, it’s cheaper, and traditional players understand it because generally it’s centralised so you can build a wind farm and feed it into the grid.

But the rest of the world is taking solar very seriously. China’s Dr Zhengron Shi, a UNSW graduate and founder of the highly successful company Suntech, spoke to his alma mater late last year and speculated that solar would reach grid parity by 2012 and that it would be driven by first-gen photovoltaics. He said that this would be driven by value-chain development, scale (Suntech already has over 1000 MW online and projects double that by 2010) and increasingly efficient technology. When these elements are in place, Shi argues that solar will become a mainstream energy source. Here’s the full interview:

His comments about where Australia fits in with all this were also interesting. He doesn’t believe that we have a strong entrepreneurial culture, a sizeable market, nor the financial or policy will to encourage enrepreneurialism – so he sees us as best-placed to be a technology incubator.

While I don’t agree that that’s all we are going to be, I do agree with him that there are significant challenges to building a successful clean tech business in Australia. We need to understand that not only is the US streets ahead of us in terms of clean energy policy; so is China. I hope our Mandarin-speaking PM has some surprises for us up his sleeves because we’re already lagging behind the US Administration – and our new government has had a year’s head start.


Written by Gabriel Sassoon

April 28, 2009 at 9:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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