donderdag 21 oktober 2010

The silent revolution continues

Last week, one of the international solar heroes died: Hermann Scheer. We had the pleasure and honour to have him as a keynote speaker at two events. Driven, passionate, energetic and convincing. Listening to him gave you the feeling: it is a matter of time until the non-believers will find out why the solar energy revolution is unavoidable. We mourn over his death, but his legacy and message will remain.

The left wing hobby
Even today, many critics are convinced solar energy is just a left-wing hobby.
Why is the development of solar energy going so slow? Why isn’t it yet affordable without subsidies? You see, it is just a hobby for dreamers...

Well, in fact, the development of solar energy isn’t going slow. The market and industry are growing like crazy. Can we reasonably expect a world to change its whole fossil infrastructure into a renewable one in just a few years? It will take more years, maybe even a few decades, but to my opinion,it is going very fast already. And even more important, it will only go faster and nobody will be able to stop this development. Solar energy is here to stay and its role will grow, whether we like it or not.

Where are your sandals?
Times have changed. When I started in this business, in the early 90’s of last century, the solar industry and business were small, very small. Talking about my passion, reactions were always with the undertone of “sure, solar energy, very nice for left-wing oriented environmentalists and dreaming fundamentalists. Where are your sandals by the way?”.
At the start of this century, when the business grew into a tiny global industry with emerging activities in China, the mood among friends changed when explaining the about latest developments. “Still in solar pv? Can you make a living in that business?”. And now, only less then a decade later, the reactions changed to the positive even more: “Wow, you have a business in solar energy? Cool! I was thinking to switch my career into renewables too and solar is really a cool technology!”.

PV a danger for the grid?
In his many presentations, Hermann Scheer described three similar stages as well. First, there is the denial: “Solar can never be taken serious.” Then, when it is getting more serious, the established bigger corporation will fight against it, like: “solar PV is a danger for the grid”. This is what can be seen in the German media today. Big companies are afraid of what will happen. If the German market will continue to grow rapidly, in a few years, solar PV will become a major, if not dominant energy source. And because renewable energy has a privileged position on the grid, the established energy giants will have to live with it and accept it. For now, they still try to fight it.
After these two stages, will follow the third, even more interesting phase. It is the phase where the former non-believers will state “that they always believed in it from the start and that is why we are getting involved now as well”. It is the phase where solar PV can no longer be ignored. Simply because the mass wants it and because it has become attractively cheap, cheaper even than electricity from the grid.

The last ones without a PV roof
This phase is closer than many in the world can imagine. Only a few years away in Germany. Just picture yourself as German citizen 3 years from now. Solar pv systems, will be on roofs of many of your German neighbours and will generate cheaper energy than you buy from a major utility. You will be a fool if you don’t invest in it yourself, and maybe even more relevant, you will be among the last ones in your neighbourhood without a PV system.

The US: bigger, bigger, bigger
On the other side of the Ocean, in the US, a similar revolution is going on. Nowadays, one after another, energy utilities in the US are starting solar PV programs and large scale initiatives. It is only a few years ago, that with a single exception, none of them showed any interest. Now, the initiatives are all multi MegaWatt and even the first “1 GigaWatt” project proposal has been launched. This is only the beginning of course. Utilities will find out, that there is hardly a more abundant, secured and stable energy source, with guaranteed and predictable cost for a 25 year period. For a comparison: which utility can predict its cost for coal and fossil fuel and thus its energy prices for the coming 25 years? For solar PV plants, no financial State guarantees are needed (like for Nuclear plants), you don’t end up with garbage (either nuclear or green house gasses) and after 40 years, you don’t have to clean up mess or cover it for many years. And the great news from the solar industry is: solar PV will only get cheaper in the coming years. So, if your peers are getting involved, you better join soon too. More utilities will follow and more and more they will start with bigger projects. In the US they like everything bigger: from hamburgers, pizza’s, SUV’s to PV power plants. The development goes only in one direction: more solar energy.

Keep on dreaming
There is no argument or reason why this development will stop or turn. Solar energy will only get cheaper and cheaper. Can we imagine that within 10 years from now, in almost all its small and large scale applications, solar energy is cheaper than electricity made from any fossil fuel? Without any government support? And, o yeah, it is clean energy by the way as well...

My message for those who don't believe in a solar future yet and for the
‘dreamers’ of the past who started in solar many years ago: keep on dreaming! We are close to the tipping point.

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