Let me be clear: spending on deployment is not a problem! Spending on deployment poorly, while assuming all it takes to get cost reductions is "scale" "learning" and "experience" is a problem. We need to understand what's going on here to structure deployment incentives correctly to make limited public dollars go as far as they can and to accelerate the causal factors behind learning curves effectively. That's what I'm focused on.
(In fact, we need to spend a lot more on smart deployment than R&D, because deployment-stage tech is more costly than lab bench stuff, as you know)
RE the GE or Google investments, they are smart so long as the policies that make SunRun profitable stay put. And it's not like GE is only banking on learning curves to get solar to cost parity. They're investing in their own high-tech, innovative thin film solar product spun directly out of NREL research! So that's what I'm talking about: look at the real technology and business innovation path to cost parity, dont just draw lines from the past into the future and say, "Walla! Scale goes up, cost goes down." I see too many solar companies making promises like that (or renewables advocates or fans) they can't cash.
GE or Google may actually be able to cash those promises (or NREL or ARPA-E) because they get into what's behind the learning curves and where the technologies can go from there. And I don't think GE invested in SunRun because of the learning curves the SunRun execs showed them...
So just so sum up where I'm coming from:
1) virtually all clean energy tech is too expensive to compete without public policy support; that puts it at perpetual risk of market collapse and setbacks because of policy uncertainty and inconsistency (e.g. austerity and expiring tax credits)
2) getting to cost competitiveness isn't a simple matter of scaling up cumulative deployment. Economies of scale in manufacturing are key, but cost gains become diminishing returns here (e.g. for solar, beyond GW-scale manufacturing, how much more can you gain from scale?); you can't extrapolate forever. Business model and financial innovation is key here too, but it won't get you to cost parity alone. Real, technological innovation is needed. GE, Google, ARPA-E, NREL all know this.
3) some of that innovation can only happen if you have markets for these technologies. But as these markets are artificially created (e.g. by policy), we must take care to make the incentives created by those markets demand and reward continual innovation and cost reductions to accelerate the maturation and improvement of clean techs and ultimately free them from subsidy dependence. That has to happen before you can really "Deploy Deploy Deploy" at a scale that really matters to the climate. Remember that 90+ percent of all energy demand growth in the coming decades will be outside of the OECD nations, and they're not going to be able to afford to pay German or California prices for solar or wind or Tesla Roadsters.
That make sense?
& +Alex Trembath
will probably be interested in this...)