With apologies to Shakespeare, a readjustment of Sonnet 116, stanzas 1 through 8:

Let me not to the marriage of technology and market

Admit impediments. Innovation is not innovation

Which falters when market barriers it finds,

Or bends with conventional energy competition to remove.

O no, it is a dedicated mark

That looks on market misunderstandings and is never shaken;

Research, development and innovation are the stars to every wand’ring fad,

Whose worth’s unappreciated, although its necessity be accepted.

Technology development, that is R&D of new photovoltaic and other solar technologies, is the slow moving driver of the global photovoltaic industry without which there would be no champion cell efficiencies to announce, no government incentives to drive demand, no business models to take advantage of the incentives and no accelerated growth to appreciate.

Without innovation, dedication and a lot (a lot) of money there would be no photovoltaic cell technologies and without market buy-in no matter how achieved there would be no solar industry. In a market teeming with investors, venture capitalists, corporations, scientists, engineers and normal people just trying to understand what it means to them, misunderstandings about the timeline necessary to bring a photovoltaic technology to commercial production has doomed many a technology before it had a chance to innovate.

Crystalline cell technology is an example of a successful technology innovation. The original German Feed in Tariff is an example of a government incentive innovation. The point is that innovations must address something and then change something.

In the solar industry, the timeline from lab scale research through pilot scale production to commercialization is decades. Research and development into SunPower’s crystalline IBC (Interdigitated Back Contact) crystalline cell began in the 1970s at Stanford University. In 1975 research was published on IBC cells. In 1987 Ron Sinton, Sinton Instruments and winner of the 2014 Cherry Award, and the team at Stanford developed a 3 mm x 5 mm IBC cell with 28.3% conversion efficiency; this cell, which could not be soldered and was not stable, was a research step on the long innovative timeline from idea through commercialization.

Manufacturers are currently either announcing plans to add capacity to produce PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) crystalline cells and modules or are actively adding capacity. Research into this technology began in the 1980s with the first paper published in 1989.

The point of this history is that technology development is a slow and rigorous process. At the end of this process market acceptance is not assured.

From idea through R&D, pilot scale, commercial production and finally finding a market, it’s about the money before it’s about anything else. Millions of dollars have been poured into the solar industry often without a successful outcome. Money is necessary and the dance to get that money leads directly to the kind of announcements that confuse observers and investors of the solar industry. Announcements have led to an under appreciation of the true innovative nature of commercial solar technologies and of the necessity to continue feeding the research machine that eventually grinds out a technology that has the potential to innovate.

The solar industry is populated by successful innovators and innovations from scientists working decades to develop solar cells, engineers designing modules, governments developing incentives to drive demand and business people creating models that enable adoption – solar in the universal sense, is an example of a successful and hard won innovation. All of this effort should never be taken for granted.