A Tale of Two Technologies

What Nuclear’s Past Might Tell Us About Solar’s Future

After a period of scientific ferment in the postwar era, nuclear technology has stagnated. Solar power could very well experience a similar technological stagnation: In the short term, solar’s rise will continue unimpeded. But in the long run, as electricity grids attempt to integrate large amounts of intermittent solar power, the cost of today’s technology is unlikely to fall fast enough to justify solar’s eroding value. The world would thus be wise to keep the nuclear industry’s experience in mind as it tries to bridge the gap between solar’s promise tomorrow and its limits today. Nuclear’s travails represent a major setback in the global quest to curb carbon emissions; if solar’s rise similarly stalls, then the world won’t get a third try at decarbonization before the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change set in.

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