August 5, 2008

The solar hype cycle

"Don't let the sun go down on me," writes Mark Modzelewski. (The punning in headlines on articles on solar just won't stop, will it!)
The other day the Boston Globe had a piece on solar technology coming of age in which Caltech chemistry professor Nathan Lewis stated: "We are not in a hype cycle…If you go to Silicon Valley and around Route 128, everyone and their brother who used to make computer chips are now trying to make thin-film solar cells."

Dr. Lewis seems to ignore that he gleefully gave a textbook definition of a hype cycle. And an out-of-control hype cycle is literally what we're in when it comes to solar energy.
Indeed! Traveling to solar conferences last year felt much like it must have felt going to Silicon Valley during the dotcom boom. Like Thomas Friedman said: "Green is the new red, white, and blue" and investors of all kinds: equity firms, VCs, angel investors, and any number of financial guys from Wall Street descend on these conferences along with an equal number of entrepreneurs vying for this money and small groups of people from, utility companies, the government and policy-oriented people, so-called independent consultants and industry experts, and last but not least a small percentage of materials and mainstream industry people (like me then!) who wish they could also play in this global fest that seems to have consumed the world.

Sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the talk and sift through the blather to glean out facts - who is actually doing what and why and how and by when?
not to forget all the spin-meistering and half-truths that one often sees in arguments both pro- and against the green movement.

Not that I am decrying the hype. Au contraire, my general attitude about this 'hype' is that no attention is bad attention, given the stakes and the enormity of the task at hand - to change the lifestyles, attitudes, and practices of millions of people and thousands of companies. Change comes glacially otherwise...and that may not be enough, especially considering the potent forces at work to prevent this change from happening.

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