In a commentary by Irwin M. Stelzer (published December 20, 2010 by the Weekly Standard, and republished by CBS News on its website), China is portrayed as a clever global chess player, bent on economic and military domination. From cornering supplies of vital rare earth minerals, to buying 800-pound-gorilla levels of US Government debt, China appears to be on the verge of succeeding in its ambitions.
Mr. Stelzer's comments seemed particularly poignant as I stood knee-deep in several dozen monuments to Chinese economic superiority in my garage. I mean, of course, the dozens of broken, plastic “Hecho in China” things I bought at Wal-Mart. It made me wonder, to what end this supposed dominion over the rest of the world? What can we expect to result from the onslaught of the economic giant that brought us lead paint in toys and melamine in dog food?
Maybe something unexpected.
What if China's preoccupation to compete with the rest of the world created a product so useful and inexpensive that it benefited the world enormously? Then it wouldn't matter so much who manufactured the product. Just the product's availability alone would be an economic blessing.
I'm talking about solar panels. China is on the path to become the world's low-cost producer of them, to the point where the panels will start to compete with fossil fuels in terms of economy.
Now here is a competition that, if successful, will result in a specialization for China that will transform into a cooperation with the rest of the world to replace fossil fuels and their accompanying problems.
That effort on China's part to do well for itself, by being the number one manufacturer of solar panels, and making them affordable, will result in China's creating an enormous good for the rest of us. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that cheap solar panels do much more than a Kyoto conference to stabilize environmental problems that may result from petroleum consumption. The good done will be, by any definition, and for whatever reason, Noble.
Though there is criticism of China for its methods of achieving manufacturing (and therefore economic) prominence, the fact is, if someone creates a life-saving solution, it doesn't matter who produces it. It just matters that the solution is available and affordable.
The marvelous thing is that, hidden in this ostensibly selfish plan is the paradox of a Noble cooperation resulting from the plan.
It would be a great gift. Here it is, a product of our profession-- the solar panel--which could change whole economies as China drives the price down further and further. And rather than create dependence, it could create independence. It would be a surprise present to everyone. It may even surprise China. And if the intent may not have been Noble, then at least the outcome will be. But what is no surprise is that it will all be enabled by the work of the Noble Profession.
Rich Krajewski is an electronics engineer, editor, and amateur-radio
If you take the time to spend the holidays in China, you might find that you will be surprised by some things that go on there. That being said, I really like the idea of having China jump onto the whole alternative energy bandwagon, it will be great for the rest of the world, if they don’t end up doing a flawed job at least.
Rich, It would be great if you could provide pointers to any research/report that studies this comparison. I agree with the concept of personal power generation and the fact that a lot of power is actually being wasted and we can manager with the amount of power that reasonable size solar power systems could generate.
Of all the fuel-less energy sources, solar is probably the most attractive, but its cost is driven by the new solar-efficient materials needed like CIGS, rather than processing labor (where China holds dominance). So I wonder if maybe the same labor cost reduction benefit can be extended to other than solar panels, like parts for windmills? Or maybe, for the case of wind power, the dependence on China alone won't be so strong (another good thing)?
I can't help but wonder what would happen a decade (or so) later after the world converted to cheap solar power (made in China). would we see a repeat of the rare earth political / economic issues of the recent times? At what point would we become "dependent" on solar rather than oil? It seems that the consumers would be better off with conservation coupled with local generation (whether oil,nuclear,wind,solar,geothermal,etc.) of power. There are many possible options some better than others, cheap is good but not always best. I don't mind buying a cheap piece of furniture knowing that it will not outlive its usefulness, but I would be more cautions with a needed commodity like energy (or food for that matter). Are there any other factors I have overlooked?
Solar flat panels whether made in China, Europe or America are typically of the same order of quality- considering they're typically all the same- with all of them silicon shield finished which what makes it durable. Only corrosion of terminals, typhoon- battered weak installations, wiring disconnections and charge controller malfunction can destroy solar panels effciciency. And that's being in the business of Solar Powering: http://solarpower.juneayasol.com
Maybe not with Solar but there is a subsitution for fossil fuel in terms of Gigawatt power generation and we are full of it- Garbage! Waste to Energy is the real future of power generation: http://zyberjune.beep.com
There's a new shape of Solar with USA's Solyndra solar tubes that will put any China Solar panels competition obsolete in terms of efficiency and use and the US must stop keeping it to themselves and pay attention to make it available and affordable anywhere around the globe fast, lest when they don't do in time, China will already cover the globe with cheap solar panels.
The fact , we all are aware, is that whatever price they may be at currently, the fossil fuels are finally going to exhaust. Whereas the solar energy is going to be there as long as the world exists. The low cost Solar panels from China may not have a longer life( as feared by some of us) but surely they will bring in enough competition in the global market which will force the other manufacturers to find innovative ways to reduce their manufacturing costs and all in all the end customers and the world will benefit.
Some key data points are required for solar panel effectiveness: 1) lifetime, as David pointed out it makes enormous difference whether it is 5 or 20 years, 2) degradation of efficiency during lifetime, repair costs, 3) environmental costs of producing the solar panels in a first place. I wonder whether anyone has performed truly apple to apple comparison calculations...Kris