Here’s the “question du jour”…is a 30% efficient solar cell at $5/watt disruptive or is a 4% efficient solar cell at $1/watt disruptive? Can’t decide…maybe you don’t have to!
Bottom line is that there can be disruption at both ends. For example, if someone wanted to create “disposable solar”, like a solar charger that sold for $9.99 that could be part of a cellphone using futuristic “plastic solar”, then the efficiency factor doesn’t really have to be enormous.
Or if someone wanted to truly have independantly powered cities using 30% cells, then a higher cost per watt could be absorbed. So we must challenge an industry that has tended to see ALL solar in one manner…measured by “STC (standard test conditions)”.
Firstly, the issue of measuring by STC is slowly going out the window as people begin to realize that different solar technologies react better under “real life” than under STC. If you can get 20% more power out of thinfilm technologies in real life than you get from thickfilm silicon ones, then why wouldn’t you pay 20% more for thin film? In Germany, farmers are “renting” out their farm roofs to businesspeople who are getting returns from the utility companies for feeding in power into the grid system. These same people are now scrounging for thinfilm solutions because they are more affordable and in the end, give them more return on investment.
Secondly, “horses for courses” approaches are now being embraced as we realize that some technologies that provide less “efficiency” may in fact be better in certain conditions. For example, thin film amorphous cells react better under blue light and in marine conditions, with all that water in the air, more blue light is refracted. Thick film technologies are preferred where unencumbered access to direct strong sunlight for most hours of the year is available and where space is an issue.
Therefore defining “disruptive” may well be in the eye of the definer. For some its low power but low cost. For others, its high power at any cost. For me, its whatever works for the particular customer that is being offered solar technology as a solution.