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.”

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

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 to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! 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+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

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