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Issue 6: The Age of Solar

5 February 2016

Editor's Note

“The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” ―Sheikh Zaki Yamani, former Minister of Oil of Saudi Arabia

Like the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, and the Stone Age before it, the Age of Fossil Fuels will come to an end. The next era requires clean and sustainable energy at scale to meet our ever-growing energy consumption, and luckily we have a renewable resource large enough to power our civilization: sunlight.

The Age of Solar is inevitable—and it may be much closer than we think.

The fact that we are discussing solar energy at all today has much to do with the meteoric fall in the price of solar photovoltaic modules—a trend which Stanford’s own Anshuman Sahoo and Stefan Reichelstein studied in relation to the looming expiration of the investment tax credits.

While silicon cells dominate the market today, new technologies are continually being developed to creatively harness the sun: Stanford Professor Tom Jaramillo talks to us about enabling solar fuels as direct substitutes for fossil fuels, while our very own staff writer Kevin Gu explains the multitude of present and next-generation solar cells.

Sunlight, of course, cannot be turned on at will, which makes integration of large-scale solar generation onto the grid a rather complex challenge. Scott Lee discusses intermittency issues and solutions. Curious minds may explore the design and market implications in our previous issue, Rethinking the Grid.

Many developing countries rely on coal or diesel for energy generation, and in these arenas, policy can help or hinder the success of solar projects. Arunabha Ghosh provides an in-depth look into India’s urgent need for policy support, while José María Valenzula takes us to Latin America’s unique marketplace.

There are yet many challenges left to solve—with creative solutions and sound business models that work—and solar entrepreneurs are taking up the challenge, as Emily Kirsch inspiringly relates.

In less than a decade, solar has not only become a promising energy resource but a symbol, and champion, of technological and business progress in renewable energy. Our team came up with a number of creative titles for this issue on solar energy such as Solar is the New Black (referring to the color of silicon panels) and Lightening the Load (… pun intended). But in the end, we settled on The Age of Solar—a bold title that captures the immensity of the change we are only beginning to see in the evolving world of energy.


10 December 2015
Jake Schual-Berke, former COO of SunSaluter, discusses how human-centered design can be applied to off-grid solar products and alleviate energy poverty in unelectrified communities.
6 May 2015
Dr. Arunabha Ghosh provides a roadmap for scaling up solar energy in India through the lens of smart policy.
6 May 2015
While developing markets like China and India have dominated the media, countries in Latin America such as Brazil have shown positive results. José María Valenzuela discusses the case for solar energy in Latin America.
6 May 2015
Co-Founder and CEO of Powerhouse (formerly SfunCube), Emily Kirsch, discusses exciting entrepreneurship opportunities in the solar industry.
6 May 2015
An overview of the past, present, and future of various solar photovoltaic technologies. Stanford PhD student Kevin Gu explains the dominant silicon technology and how one day we might have energy-generating windows in the home.
5 May 2015
Rapid growth in solar energy poses challenges to large-scale grid integration but also inspires creative solutions from both academia and industry. UC Irvine PhD student Scott Lee explains.
5 May 2015
Stanford Professor Thomas Jaramillo explains how developing robust and efficient technologies for solar fuels production can help us to move away from fossil sources and toward renewable energy solutions. An interview by Gigi Lin.
5 May 2015
Stanford GSB researchers Ansu Sahoo and Stefan Reichelstein present price projections for solar PV panels and explain their implications for policy.