One of the biggest misconceptions people have about solar is that it is just about to become so cheap that you better not get any now, because in a few years it will be much cheaper. A common belief is that an astounding technological breakthrough is just around the corner and about to make solar cheaper.
While it is true that technological breakthroughs happen all the time, most are at the lab research stage. That does not guarantee that any of them will ever actually make it past the “valley of death” as VC funders call it, to actually go into production, so that someone can actually buy them, in the US.
Then, because they are radical new technology, they have to be tested and certified by the state (at least in California, which pays the rebates based on “expected performance”) as able to last 40 years or so. The original crystalline solar developed in the Carter years is the only solar that has been proved to last 40 years, because, in the real world, it has. For at least the next decade, tried and tested solar tech that is on the market now is your best bet.
You also have to consider what the future might hold for renewable energy, politically, in this country. Rebates and incentives that now lower your costs might soon be a thing of the past.
As we go into a future that is nastier and more desperate for this country, with peak oil, food shortages and FEMA putting an increasing drain on public funds from the effects of climate change, voters will tend to move to the selfish and shortsighted end of the political spectrum. It’s human nature. Politicians who offer rebates and subsidies to encourage more renewable energy will be less and less appealing to an increasingly desperate “I’ve got mine” crowd in the US.
While prices for new technologies might go down in China and Europe, the technologies might be unavailable here, due to removing subsidies for renewable energy. Some examples are the highly efficient glass windows and cars that are available in Europe, but not here. High speed trains are unknown here but have been common in both China and Japan and Europe. This technology disparity will diverge more as oil prices rise, making shipping more expensive. As with cars, windows and trains, the most advanced technologies might be increasingly unavailable in the US.
So, if you have wanted to go solar, but think something better is just around the corner, consider all the pressures that push prices in the opposite direction. It is much more likely that – at least in the US – prices for solar will not go down with time, but might even go up.
Susan Kraemer writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate and GreenProphet and has been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design she brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention: solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times. Follow Susan @dotcommodity on twitter.