Clean Energy — Looking for Accelerators

We frequently come across the concept of “accelerators,” i.e., forces that cause certain phenomena to speed their way into our lives. Recent examples are the adoption of the Internet and cell phones, both of which exceeded analysts’ expectations by an order of magnitude.

This hasn’t slipped past the notice of the venture capital firms, who are busily looking for the next “killer application” in mobile commerce and social media. But while I’m sure they’re barking up the right tree, it’s not where my interest lies. For my money, we have all the convenience and entertainment we need right now as a society.

Having said that, it sure would be good if we could run into one or more accelerators in clean energy and sustainability. But what would they look like? If you’re looking for them coming out of government, you’re likely to be disappointed. In the US at least, the powers that oppose clean energy have done a more-than-adequate job at poisoning the atmosphere, and eliminating the possibility of a consensus in which the public sector leads the way here, as it did with the construction of our highways, the Space program, the development of the Internet, etc. Instead, we’ve come to look at those in government as incompetent, evil, or both.

So where the heck are those accelerators? I know I saw them around here somewhere.

Sometimes something you’re looking for turns up where you least expect to find it.

Maybe it’s cost, plain and simple. Even without incentives, the cost of PV is under $1 per Watt (and continuing to fall). With efficiencies rising and new technologies coming along at an ever-increasing rate, we’re approaching the point of “grid parity” at which the levelized cost of energy from PV will be identical to what it is from fossil fuels. Solar energy grew 109% in 2011 from 2010, and 2012 looks very strong as well.

Could it be that the biggest accelerator of them all is right there in front of us?

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