Gore is half right when he points to decreasing production costs, said Nicholas Lenssen, an analyst at Energy Insights, a market research firm that's part of IDC. But the efficiency of solar cells isn't increasing at anywhere near the pace of production. "The efficiency gains are really slow," Lenssen said.
Even so, over time the cost-per-watt, especially in large solar farm deployments that could become alternatives to fossil fuel generations, could decline enough to be competitive.
Interest in reducing the price of solar generation is coming from a broad range of companies, including those in the IT sector. In May, for instance, IBM said it developed a technology for cooling solar cells used in solar farms, a thin layer of liquid metal to reduce temperatures of 1,600 degrees Celsius. This allows more light to be concentrated on the solar cell, improving the efficiency of solar cells.
Money is also flowing into solar companies. One such firm, First Solar, has seen its per-share stock price rocket from about US$25 two years ago toward Google-like highs. It's trading this week at more than US$260 a share.
Al Compaan, a physics professor at the University of Toledo in Ohio who studies solar energy, said Gore's effort, "is a great stimulus to getting people to think about renewable energy." While the improvements in solar energy won't change as rapidly as Gore might like, there is, nonetheless, enormous potential, he said.