Mr. Puttre’s article makes clear the need to understand advances in PV cell efficiencies and their importance to reducing the cost of solar energy. But, with the plethora of PV technologies available, understanding the landscape can be difficult. Particular varieties of silicon and thin film dominate the landscape now, but for how long? The history of technological advance is replete with competing technologies vying for dominance in the marketplace and the current energy arena is no different. For example, perovskites have recently garnered much attention in the press and appear to be on a steep upward trajectory. How do we assess their potential in comparison, not to where the incumbents are today, but to where they will be in the future?
- Determine the technological performance parameters that can help you describe technological advance (hint: sales growth is NOT a technological performance parameter). For PV, cell efficiencies are a good place to start but there are others. For wind energy, rotor diameter, hub height, and turbine nameplate capacities are also a good starting place.
- Obtain trend data on the metrics of interest but be careful not to mix different technologies. For example, if looking at trends in the speed of aircraft, do not mix propeller driven aircraft with jet aircraft as they are fundamentally different technologies and this will only make a mess of your analysis.
- Understand where you are on the technology s-curve of the technology you are researching. There is always some physical limitation to the performance of every technology. Are you close to it? (See the figure below). Know how and when to apply the proper growth models (Gompertz, Pearl-Reed, Fisher-Pry, etc.) to complete your analysis.
- If looking at the substitution of an emerging technology for an incumbent one, consider that such substitutions often take longer than expected – in spite of what you may read in the press about “game changers” – and it is not uncommon for such an attack to motivate improvements in the incumbent technology.
- Last, the use of such analyses in planning your technology strategy is only a starting point. Work to understand what the data is telling you. Most importantly, understand that trend is not destiny.