For the future of solar, we’ve got the tech—it’s the economics, stupid

Solana’s 3,200 mirrored collectors surround a central power block in Arizona.

Welcome to Ars UNITE, our week-long virtual conference on the ways that innovation brings unusual pairings together. Today, we examine the evolution of solar and how business—not tech—may be holding it back. Join us this afternoon at 1pm Eastern (10am Pacific) for a live discussion on the topic with article author John Timmer and his expert guest; your comments and questions are welcome.

In the US, the future of solar energy will be made in California. Earlier this month, the state’s governor signed legislation that commits California to obtaining half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. And to some extent, that future is now—the state’s utilities are working to meet a goal of one-third renewables by 2020.

In a lot of ways, this should be easy for California. The price of solar power has plunged—for utility scale solar, it can be cheaper to build and operate a plant (given existing incentives) than it is to simply supply fuel to a natural gas plant. Plus, countries like Spain and Germany (which also has a goal of 50 percent by 2030) have already done extensive solar rollouts and can provide valuable lessons.

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