First Solar, Ordos, China, US

China, USHow can we be so profoundly behind in our awareness of solar PV? China signs an agreement with the world’s largest PV company (which just happens to be an American company) for the world’s largest PV system (equivalent to Hoover Dam in output) using the most advanced, lowest-cost technology, and we haven’t even heard about it? The company, the technology, the concept of big PV. All that is new. Our press and our government are in the dark. Why?

We hear about self-promoting Silicon Valley PV start-ups manipulating the press for coverage while they raise money (First Solar is from the Rustbelt). We hear about Chinese silicon PV companies using low-cost labor to take the market away from everyone, because that is a cliché of our psyche – the foreign threat.

And we hear about how hapless our government-run applied research is, yet First Solar came from just such a program, started during the Carter Administration out of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

We are surprised by progress in solar because we always look for averages in the energy field. We don’t look for disruptive progress because our energy analysts are conditioned by fossil fuels and utilities to use averages. Nothing ever changes, so why look for change?

We think America is helpless versus the Chinese megalith, but here it is, buying from us. We don’t learn lessons from what we have done better, we ignore it or never hear of it because we are looking the other way, far across the sea toward our fears.

Maybe it is because we don’t really need the lessons of how to compete, to innovate, to be committed and visionary – we already know how.

Ken Zweibel