By Arnold Kling
What interested me more was the growing evidence that solar energy might be subject to a Moore’s Law rate of improvement. According to Ramez Naam in Scientific American, the cost of solar photovoltaic models has been falling at an exponential rate since 1980. Installation costs have been falling too. So much so, in fact, that in a decade, solar would outperform the average kilowatt energy cost in the US. A decade after that and it will be approaching the cheap baseload fuels.
A slight quibble. I think of Moore’s Law as saying that computer power per dollar is roughly doubling every few years. The article referred to in the quote above says,
Averaged over 30 years, the trend is for an annual 7 percent reduction in the dollars per watt of solar photovoltaic cells.
I was relieved to find that the exponential curve is not as steep as Moore’s Law. I feel more comfortable with the forecast that solar will be competitive with other fuels in 2020 if it takes only an annual improvement of 7 percent to get there. If it were to require a doubling every two years until then, I would be more worried about running into impossible technological hurdles that keep solar power from ever becoming competitive.
My read on the situation is that government should still be subsidizing work at the research phase, not at the deployment phase. When solar power is cost effective, deployment will not require subsidies.