The solar industry is starting to believe. Solar is a disruptive technology and, when combined with other disruptive technologies such as electric vehicles and self-driving cars it will disrupt the energy infrastructure.
PV Magazine interviewed me about the Clean Disruption, the future of energy and the role that solar PV is playing in that disruption.
Here’s one of the questions that Edgar Meza asked me. The magazine has kindly allowed me to share the entire interview in PDF form here.
What characteristics of PV make it disruptive?
Here are several characteristics of PV that make it disruptive
1- PV dematerializes energy. To understand this concept, think of how digital photography disrupted film photography. With digital imaging, photography went from atoms (film) to bits (digital), from something material that you had to manufacture for every single picture to something immaterial that is essentially free. Today energy is like film photography was in the 20th century. Every time you flip a switch you burn fossil fuels or uranium. Every time you hit the car pedal you burn petroleum. Solar PV dematerializes energy by turning the sunshine photons directly into electrons and bits. You don’t burn anything to charge your computer. The same thing happens if you charge your electric vehicle with solar energy.
2- PV demonetizes energy. Again, think of digital cameras disrupting film photography. Each time you took a picture you burned film so Kodak made money. Then if you actually wanted to look at the picture you had to pay more money to Kodak for the paper and the chemicals that went into processing the film. With digital photography the cost of taking each additional picture, storing it, sharing it, and watching it is essentially zero. This is exactly what solar PV does to energy. Once you install a PV power plant the marginal cost of energy is essentially zero. Just like Kodak could not compete with a marginal cost of zero, there is no way on earth that energy companies can compete with solar marginal cost of zero.
3- PV has increasing returns. PV is a technology whose costs have gone down by roughly 22% every two years for decades. Essentially the more PV is adopted the more everyone benefits from everyone else’s adoption of PV.
4- PV is scale-free. The same technology works to power a 1W light bulb, a 1kW house, a 1MW business, a 10MW factory, a 100 MW town, a 1 GW city and a 100 GW country. This is much like information technology is scale free: our mobile phones, laptop computer and the most massive data centers work with similar modular technology building blocks.
5- It flips the architecture of energy. PV essentially flips the architecture of energy the way that the web flipped the architecture of publishing. In the old days publishing used to be done by a few companies who owned large centralized printers. They decided what would be published and pushed it down to the users. Now everyone with a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account is a publisher. The same dynamics work for PV: everyone can generate energy as well as information.
When you combine these disruptive characteristics of PV with the complementary disruptive characteristics of electric vehicles, it’s a one-two punch that conventional energy companies will not be able to survive.
Please read the whole interview with PV Magazine Interview with Tony Seba Jan 2014.