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Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Chart: Solar’s breathtaking price plunge and dizzying generation growth

Introducing Chart of the Week, a new feature from Canary Media.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Eric Wesoff

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Welcome to Canary Media’s inaugural Chart of the Week, soon to be your regular source of thought-provoking, eye-catching and mouthwatering graphics and data visualizations about the transition to clean energy. 

Source: Our World in Data; Canary Media analysis

We’re starting with a simple but compelling chart showing the breathtaking price plunge of solar modules and the global solar market’s dizzying growth climb. As the cost of solar modules has declined over the past two decades, the amount of solar power produced around the world has accelerated dramatically — and it is poised to keep on growing at a fast clip. If you’re feeling bummed about climate change, here’s a great case for optimism.

It’s all because the solar industry follows the law.

Not exactly Moore’s law, but something along the same lines: Swanson’s law, which suggests that the cost of the photovoltaic cells needed to generate solar power falls by 20% with each doubling of global manufacturing capacity,” as The Economist put it. Richard Swanson will tell you that it’s not a law; it’s actually a learning curve or an experience curve, showing that costs drop as cumulative production rises. 

Kingsmill Bond of Carbon Tracker recently told Canary’s David Roberts that learning curves are applicable to three other technologies critical to the clean energy transition: wind power, battery energy storage and electrolyzers for hydrogen production.

Bond — a market analyst who’s worked for big banks, seemingly not a Pollyanna type — believes that technology learning curves like those for solar and wind will persist and ultimately lead to market domination and a renewables future that crowds out fossil fuels. It’s just a matter of math and markets. 

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.

Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.