A decade ago, wind power was already basically cost-competitive with conventional power sources, utility-scale solar was significantly more expensive but starting to bloom, and electric vehicles were hardly a blip on the horizon — and basically unknown to most of us. How did that change in the past 10 years?
I slid into cleantech coverage in 2009 and much more seriously by 2010. At that time, solar power was a niche market and much more expensive than conventional sources of power. Costs dropped off a cliff year after year and solar power is now the cheapest option for new power capacity in many if not most places in the world, and rooftop solar is often a no-brainer if you have a roof that’s not deep in a jungle.
I’m not even sure if I had heard of a single electric vehicle other than a golf cart or go-kart back in 2010. I’m now on my third one, I’ve witnessed the Tesla Model 3 become the #1 best selling car in the United States in terms of revenue (for a full 12 months or more), and I’ve witnessed the Model 3 outsell the next best selling vehicle in the Netherlands by more than a factor of two (it had greater than 2× more sales than the Volkswagen Polo in 2019).
I could go on and on, but pictures tell a thousand words, so I decided to draw a couple of pictures to explain the past 10 years of cleantech.
Cleantech Cost Charts 2010–2020
Cleantech Adoption 2010–2020
True, there’s no data behind those graphs, but the point of a graph is to tell a story — an extremely accurate story. The point of this article is to highlight a story I’ve reported on for a decade, and representing that story in an extremely simple and clear visual way comes with its benefits. The pictures above convey the message as effectively as I think anything can — electric vehicle, solar power, wind power, stationary energy storage, and LED costs have come down quickly and consistently for the past decade (actually, decades, to be more precise); and as they’ve hit critical crossover points, the result has been exponential growth in cleantech adoption.
To create precise graphs for this, you’d need to combine and normalize the various technologies (and others) mentioned above. After reading and creating thousands of cleantech charts in the past 10 years, I can say confidently that at the end of the day you’d get a similar result to what’s above. So, I just decided to draw visual estimates of the trends. Plus, hey, look at the date.