Geoffrey Lean seems not to quite get technology

Specifically, renewables tehnology, which is a pity as he\’s an environmental correspondent.

These powered swimsuits presage the growing development of “thin-film” solar panels, which can be printed like a page rather than constructed from costly silicon. This promises to provide a host of new ways of generating electricity, and bring costs crashing down.

Mark Little, global research director for the GE conglomerate, predicted recently that within five years thin-film could make solar power cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels or atoms.

There\’s a bit of a mix and match here.

There are two different solar PV technologies and he\’s mixed them together. \”Thin film\” is what companies like First Solar have been churning out by the acre. Cadmium Telluride in their case. The \”thin film\” bit is that you use vapour deposition (ie, heat it all up to a gas then let it condense on the substrate) to get your Cd/Te onto a sheet of glass.

This is not, you\’ll note, akin to printing.

Then there is the idea of printing solar cells. Various people have shown, experimentally, that you can do this. One even uses normal ink-jet technology to do it.

Here you using metal based inks to print your circuits on the substrate. The dried strands of your metal based ink become the circuits.

This is not \”thin film\” at all, actually it\’s quite thick film. But the supposition (as yet unproven in manufacturing scale) is that by using a cheap and well understood technology we can overcome the costs of using more of the ink.

That solar PV will be cheaper than fossil derived, at the point of production/consumption, absent the costs of batteries or a storage system, I regard as a completely unremarkable achievement. Five years looks a little soon but I can believe even that.

Why would I believe such? Well, remember that Bjorn Lomborg that all the Greens like to shout at? He predicted 12 years ago that solar PV would be price competitive soon enough: 2020 I think was the date he gave. That he was right early is of course why the Greens all like to shout at him.

For if solar PV was always going to become price competitive then all the rest of the Green hysteria has been a waste. We\’ll wean ourselves off fossil fuels when we have a cheaper alternative, quite naturally, without subsidies or rules or regulations. And if that\’s true then we don\’t actually need the rules and regulations and what point in being a Green if you can\’t tell everyone what to do?

 

5 comments on “Geoffrey Lean seems not to quite get technology

  1. Is it possible that the investments in it which have been improving the technology/bringing it down in price are happening because the subsidies/rules have made it worthwhile?

    Tim adds: Solar PV subsidies have been available in the UK for 14 months or so. The 20% per annum price drops in solar PV have been going on for some 12-14 years.

    Probably not then.

  2. In the UK, yes. But not in Germany, or the US. It’s a global market, after all.

    Of course – you could argue that other countries could do the subsidising and we could reap the rewards, but that seems like a fault in a system with global markets and local subsidies.

    Tim adds: I do indeed argue exactly that. Let other people piss their money away and then when it works we’ll buy some.

  3. Technology remark of the week (year? decade? century?….)

    “One German organic farm has killed twice as many people as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Gulf Oil spill combined.”

    [blog commenter richfisher]

  4. When it comes to DT columnists, just as is the case with Mary Riddell, one can say without fear of equivocation that every Geoffrey Lean article is pure bilge.

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