Chapter 9: Solar as a Model

The evolution of solar technology from a scientific curiosity to a scalable source of low-carbon energy supply has provided society with a powerful tool with which to affordably contribute to a decarbonized the world economy.  But the challenge of addressing climate change requires such a large transformation of the energy system that even massive deployment of PV will be insufficient.  Part of the value in solar’s successful evolution is that it provides a model for the development of other low-carbon technologies that society will need to meaningfully address climate change.  This last section of the book describes how solar can serve as a model.  Understanding solar’s progress is the key to making smart decisions about developing climate technologies we will need.


The utility of solar as a model relies on answering three questions:

  1. What were the drivers of solar’s success? 

  2. What attributes of PV technology made it amenable to those drivers?

  3. To what types of technologies might this model be applied? 


The characteristics of slow change in the climate system and in the energy system mean that the solar model will only be useful if it can be accelerated.

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This chapter summarizes the factors that led the price of PV to fall by two orders of magnitude and grow at over 30% per year for close to three decades.  It identifies several broad driving forces that facilitated these improvements.  It points to characteristics of PV technology that made it amenable to these.  It makes the case that innovation in new low-carbon technologies needs to happen much faster than solar did. 

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