Lighten Up

Travis Bradford believes solar technology will revolutionize energy. By Trevor Stokes

In 2003, economist Travis Bradford founded Prometheus Institute as an industry-independent repository of information and analysis about the current status of solar energy technologies.

In his new book, Solar Revolution, Bradford argues that we are at the cusp of a second silicon revolution with energy-collecting photovoltaic chips instead of the energy-consuming computer chips. If solar panels covered three percent of Nevada, they would provide the US with all its electricity needs.

Plenty recently spoke with Travis Bradford about how he believes solar technology will revolutionize our current energy structures.

Plenty: Why do you think solar energy will be part of the solution to today’s energy crisis?

Bradford: The answer to that is very simple: Today solar energy costs 10 percent of what it did to install in the mid- to late-1970s. The products have gotten more mature; the efficiencies have improved; the costs have come down—all using the exact same photovoltaic technologies. The more we make, the cheaper it gets. We’ve entered a phase where it’s cheap enough to install the technology in lots of places; every time we install more it gets cheaper.

Plenty: In a world with so many renewable energy choices—nuclear, hydroelectricity, wind, geothermal, and biomass—why focus on solar energy?

Bradford: With solar, you can get the electricity exactly where you need it, and everywhere in the world has sun.

Plenty: How can the average American consumer contribute to this shift toward solar energy?

Bradford: There are three things that people can do. First, they can take a fresh look at solar. Don’t assume that just because it used to be too expensive that it is today. Second, they should know that there is a lot of new policy that supports the growth of solar energy [including the California bill Million Solar Roofs Initiative, which gives $3.3 billion to help deploy solar on a million roofs, and a new federal tax credit]. Third, people need to realize that solar provides a lot of benefits that aren’t going to come through in the cost. People don’t calculate the cost effectiveness of their marble counter tops. If they put quality into their homes, it will add value, which they’ll get when they resell it later. And that’s true of solar as well.

Plenty: Why should the average consumer care where their energy comes from?

Bradford: Energy is by far the most urgent issue that we face. It’s not just climate change; it’s local air quality. There are huge issues related to energy security from the way that we harness energy currently. Both of those issues lead to the economic risks that our energy infrastructure creates. Once people adopt a distributed solar solution on their house [as opposed to depending on large centralized solar power plants], at least they have solved all of those problems for themselves.

Plenty: What do you expect from solar technologies in 10 years? Twenty years?

Bradford: I expect that a lot more people are going to begin to adopt it. With the model that we’ve built, by 2020, solar will provide a quarter of the new electricity generation installed every year and by 2025, it will be close to half. Over the next 15 or 20 years, solar is going to radically change expectations about how energy will be installed and generated. These industries are growing wicked fast.


Not a comment, a question. Where is the best place to research and aquire Solar Panels?

I'm beginning to plan the designs for the construction of Eco-Pure and Energy Self Sufficient houses and need as much info as I can get.

Thanks. Tim Stenning