(Tech Xplore)—Max Jerneck, an economist with the Stockholm School of Economics, has published an article in the journal Science Advances discussing the current state of solar cell development and sales in the U.S. and why it currently lags so far behind China and Japan. He suggests it is primarily due to investor impatience and a financial climate in which profits are spent on dividends and stock buybacks rather than investment in what many see as risky endeavors.
Back in 1970's, the U.S. was the worldwide leader in solar cell development and sales, holding approximately 95 percent of the market. But since that time, the role of the U.S. has declined sharply, down to 55 percent as recently as 1984 and to just 9 percent in 2005. Meanwhile, Japan stepped up its effort, and had roughly half of the market by 2005. Since that time, China has increased its presence dramatically while the U.S. continues to lag. Jerneck investigated the issue, finding that the root cause is a lack of willingness to invest by big money holders.
In the 1970s, investors were big on tech stocks—they made fortunes as companies sprang up seemingly out of nowhere to become overnight sensations, delivering huge amounts of money to those who got in on the ground floor—namely the smart people with the smart ideas and the investors who loaned them the money to get their ideas off the ground. Without such investment, companies like Apple and Microsoft might not be here today. And that is the problem now, Jerneck says—tech investments have become riskier and investors have become less patient—instead of waiting for technology to mature to the point where it becomes profitable, they instead look to the next sure thing so that dividends can be made and stock prices will rise.
That, Jerneck adds, leaves little interest in companies that focus on solar technology. It is a simple formula, he notes: Without capital, technological innovation withers. In the U.S., huge corporations bought most of the early solar startups, and when they did not see immediate profits, sold them to overseas companies. That kind of disinterest continues today, he notes, which suggests it does not appear likely that solar development in the U.S. will rebound any time soon.