Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

Solar Industry Hopeful Despite the Downturn

The stimulus package could yet be a big boon to the slowing solar industry.

  • February 6, 2009

The mood among people involved with the solar energy industry is surprisingly optimistic these days, given that the industry is suffering badly from the recession.

A conventional solar cell.

Even with tax credits meant to stimulate the solar industry a number of big solar farm projects announced last year are in danger as financing dries up. For example, one fast-growing solar company, which is supposed to supply the panels for a 550-megawatt solar farm in California, recently had to lay-off nearly half of its work-force, according to the LA Times. It’s also having trouble financing an expansion of its assembly facilities.

The problem, according to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and researchers involved with solar energy, is that the tax credits designed to promote investment in solar energy aren’t working–no one is making any money to tax, even the banks that would have provided financing.

But hope is in the air: the stimulus bill now before Congress could change everything. Modifications to the tax credits could allow companies to get money from the government even if they’re not operating in the black this year. What’s more there are billions of dollars designated for solar research (the exact numbers haven’t been settled yet).

Much of the talk at an informal meeting of solar industry experts this week in Boston revolved around how to make the incentives better. One option is something called a feed-in tariff, in which a certain price for power from solar panels is guaranteed, and paid for from a designated fund. This provides incentive not only to make solar panels, but to install them and make sure they’re working. Such maintenance can make a big difference. Tonio Buonassisi, a professor of mechanical engineering working on solar cell research at MIT said that ice and snow accumulating on his home solar panel array this winter has slowed power output to a trickle. He said that if he were guaranteed income from the power, he’d be up on his roof cleaning them off. “If your printing money on your roof, you’ll be up there making sure it’s working.”

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.