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The Dazzling History of Solar Power

Kelly Sims Gallagher speaks with Knowable Magazine's podcast about the lessons-learned from the journey that solar energy has been on.

How can we shine light on the future of an invention? If a novel technology really is novel, how can researchers begin to work out how it might fit into the world in the coming years or decades? After all, “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” That quote is from Niels Bohr. Maybe. No one knows for sure.


Kelly Sims Gallagher: “Really, at that time, that’s kind of where solar was. It was considered to be, you know, a very advanced kind of far-out technology.”

This is Kelly Sims Gallagher, who’s been researching energy technology innovation systems for around 20 years and is now based at the Fletcher School of Tufts University in Massachusetts. There’s a reason solar still seemed “far out” in the late 1970s: The cost was still steep: $20 per watt if your solar panel was running at full power. That’s around 90 2021 dollars. So if you wanted to buy enough solar panels to power a single 60-watt lightbulb, you’d have to fork over $5,000 of today’s money. Controversial indeed. Here’s Felix Creutzig of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin, who studies solar power’s role in mitigating climate change.

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