Too little, too early: California’s transient advantage in the photovoltaic solar industry
- 602 Downloads
Throughout its brief history, California has established itself as a national or international leader in key industries—such as aerospace, computing and entertainment—through early mover pre-emption and strong clustering effects. California firms were the initial world leaders in producing photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and dominated the initial aerospace niche market. However, these early efforts failed to create a durable cluster, and when the U.S. market lost interest in renewable energy during the 1990s, California firms were largely surpassed by Japanese, German and Chinese producers that focused on the mass market of using PV to displace fossil fuels for electricity generation. This paper reviews the history of the California PV producers in three phases: aerospace niche markets of the 1950s and 1960s, a brief policy-induced effort at electricity generation in the 1980s, and a twenty first century resurgence fueled by Silicon Valley venture capital. It then discusses why the early entry of the California firms failed to translate to sustained advantage for the firms or the region.
KeywordsIndustry clusters Pioneer advantage Renewable energy Industry emergence
JEL ClassificationL22 L26 L52 O31 R30
Thanks to Steve Casper, David McFeeley and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2011 Technology Transfer Conference.
- Böttcher, M. (2010). Global and local networks in the Solar Energy Industry—The case of the San Francisco Bay Area, Working paper, Network of European and US Regional and Urban Studies. http://www-sre.wu-wien.ac.at/neurus/Boettcher.pdf. Accessed 22 Nov 2012.
- Colatat, P., Vidican, G & Lester, R. K., et al. (2009). Innovation systems in the solar photovoltaic industry: The role of public research institutions. Mit Industrial Performance Center, working paper MIT-IPC-09-007.Google Scholar
- Durand, S., & Bowling, B. (1993). Field experience with photovoltaic systems: Ten-year assessment. Technical Report TR-102138. Palo Alto: Electric Power Research Institute.Google Scholar
- Engel, L. (1954). Harnessing the electron. June: New York Times. 13.Google Scholar
- French, R.H.; Murray, M.P.; Wei-Chun Lin; Shell, K.A.; Brown, S.A.; Schuetz, M.A.; Davis, R.J. et al (2011). Solar radiation durability of materials components and systems for Low Concentration Photovoltaic Systems. 2011 IEEE Energytech (May), 1–5.Google Scholar
- Gilson, R. J. (1999). The legal infrastructure of high technology industrial districts: Silicon Valley, Route 128, and covenants not to compete. New York University Law Review, 74(3), 575–629.Google Scholar
- Glennan, T. K. (1993). The birth of NASA: The diary of T. Keith Glennan, SP-4105, Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.Google Scholar
- Goldstein, A. (1985). Spectrolab may soar again with gallium technology. Los Angeles Times, Aug. 6, p. SF 5A.Google Scholar
- Hoffman, H. L. (1957). Utilization of advanced production techniques by the electronics industry. IRE Transactions on Production Techniques, 2(1), v–vi.Google Scholar
- Hubbard, H. M. (1989). Photovoltaics today and tomorrow. Science, 244(4902), 297–304.Google Scholar
- IEA. 2012. International Energy Agency data services, wds.iea.org, Accessed 22 Nov.Google Scholar
- Kanellos, M,& Prior, B (2010). Are Solar Thermal Power Plants Doomed? Greentech Media. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/is-CSP-doomed/. 18 October.
- Lauck, F. W., & Overbye, V. D. (1963). Novel Power Sources for Shelters. Office of Scientific and Technical Information report #4032343, Milwaukee: A.O. Smith Corporation.Google Scholar
- Leslie, S. W. (2000). The biggest ‘Angel’ of them all: the Military and the making of Silicon Valley. In M. Kenney (Ed.), Understanding silicon valley (pp. 48–67). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Life. (1955). Fresh face to the sun: International conference assesses progress in solar energy. Nov. 21, 139–142.Google Scholar
- Los Angeles Times. (1960). Textron Buys Spectrolab of N. Hollywood. Aug. 2, p. 23.Google Scholar
- Los Angeles Times. (1973). Solar Energy Called Ultimate Solution to Crisis. Sept. 9, p SF A1.Google Scholar
- Mehta, S. (2010). Will Thin Film Ever Meet Expectations? Seeking Alpha. http://seekingalpha.com/article/196248. 30 Mar.
- Moll, J. (1993). Oral history conducted by Andrew Goldstein, May 21, 1993. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: IEEE History Center.Google Scholar
- Morton, O. (2006). Solar energy: Silicon Valley sunrise. Nature (September), pp. 19–22.Google Scholar
- NASA (1962). Ranger 4 Spacecraft. News release 62–93, April 19.Google Scholar
- National Research Council. (2000). Renewable power pathways. Washington DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
- New York Times. 1955, Chicago Concern Sold; National Fabricated Products Goes to Hoffman Electronics. July 5, p. 45.Google Scholar
- Osborne, M. (2011). Chinese bank lending to solar firms dwarfs sector funding in 2010, says Mercom Capital. January: PV-Tech.org. 20.Google Scholar
- “Our History” (2011). Spectrolab, Inc., http://www.spectrolab.com/history.htm. Accessed 31 Oct.
- Perlin, J. (2004). The Silicon Solar Cell Turns 50. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/33947.pdf. Accessed 5 Oct 2011.
- Pinkham, L. (2009). What’s the Average Cost to Install a Solar-Electric System to Power Your Home? Mother Earth News, www.motherearthnews.com. Accessed 1 Nov 2011.
- Porter, M. E. (1998). Clusters and the new economics of competition (pp. 77–90). Nov-Dec: Harvard Business Review.Google Scholar
- Quinn, J. (1985). Maverick Using New Technology. Los Angeles Times, April 2, p. V3A.Google Scholar
- Roberts, B. (2008). Photovoltaic Solar Resource of the United States. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, www.nrel.gov, October 20.
- Rodgers, TJ (2010) Cypress Startups: History, Theory of Funding, Lessons. Cypress.com, May 13. http://www.cypress.com/?rID=36694.
- Rogers, E. M., & Larsen, J. K. (1984). Silicon Valley fever: Growth of high-technology culture. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Saxenian, A. L. (1994). Regional advantage: Culture and competition in silicon valley and route 128. Press, Cambridge: Harvard Univ.Google Scholar
- Shrum, W. (1985). Organized technology: Networks and innovation in technical systems. West Lafayette, Ind: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar
- Simard, C., & West, J. (2006). Knowledge networks and the geographic locus of innovation. In H. Chesbrough, W. Vanhaverbeke, & J. West (Eds.), Open innovation: Researching a new paradigm (pp. 220–240). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Stimson, T. E, Jr. (1958). The sun is really in business (pp. 57–220). August: Popular Mechanics.Google Scholar
- Sumner, D. D., Whitaker, C. M., & Schlueter, L. E. (1988). Carrisa plains photovoltaic power plant 1984–1987 performance. In Conference Record of the Twentieth IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (Vol. 2, pp. 1289–1292). Las Vegas.Google Scholar
- SustainableBusiness.com (2009). Cleantech Provisions: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.feature/id/1640 17 Feb.
- Taylor, M., Nemet, G., Colvin, M., Begley, L., Wadia, C., Dillavou, T. (2007). Government actions and innovation in clean energy technologies: the cases of photovoltaic cells, solar thermal electric power, and solar water heating. California Energy Commission, PIER Energy-Related Environmental Research. CEC-500-2007-012.Google Scholar
- Time. 1955, Science: Sun Electricity. July 4.Google Scholar
- Vartabedian, R. (1993). Defense conversion has few converts so far. Los Angeles Times, Oct. 11, p. 1.Google Scholar
- Welles, E. O. (1998). Going for broke. Inc., June, pp. 66–78.Google Scholar
- West, J. (2011). Market, policy and environmental influences on the emergence of California’s Solar Industry, 1900–2010. Paper presented at the 2011 Technology Transfer Conference, Augsburg, Germany, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2010114.