Kuhn’s paradigm shift, Christensen disruptive innovation and solar energy


Solar energy ! These two words spark energies in supporters & proponents and opponents alike.

Some say, it has come of age and some believe the technology ( or rather technologies ) has yet to prove itself.

Looking at Kuhn’s paradigm and the recent Clayton Christensen’s disruptive technology, we can attempt to analyze the case.

Kuhn’s paradigm states that when a present model which has been governing the system ( here energy consumption and industry) starts to fail , there is a drift away from it and a crisis develops. This crisis leads to a revolution in model and finally there is a change and a new model.

Its like when Copernicus and Galileo’s theories challenges the incumbent model ( of Church being the supreme authority in society). Same happened when Hinduism was challenged by rising wave of Buddhism and its centrality of non violence and equity in society.

In technological arena the information gathering and delivery was challenged by Google’s search model. Cellular phones challenged landlines.

Clayton Christensen a professor at Harvard Business ( http://www.hbs.edu/) School ( http://www.claytonchristensen.com/disruptive_innovation.html ) propounded the disruptive innovation theory. It states that by sustaining innovations industry/company open doors to disruptive innovation. Note that the innovation is called disruptive in retrospect ( when it has proved itself as acceptable by the intended target/market ).

Combining these theories for solar energy technologies and innovations, lets look at whats happening in present and what drove the past.

Energy forms the center of our lives as electricity and fuel. If we notice wood was used for centuries as a fuel source until coal was discovered in 18th century and through sustainable innovations continued to meet the needs of people. Sustainable innovations in mining methods and machinery caused the cost to go low then it was adopted by the masses. Thus adoption by masses created disruption in use of wood as primary source of fuel.In mid 19th century oil did the same with coal, what it had done with wood. Fossil fuels sustainable use has come into question; due to pollution, rising demand and depleting supply.Nuclear energy has not been able to dislodge the fossil fuel as a model source of energy. So there has been a model crisis ( look at the Kuhn’s model above) and that led to a model revolution in form of renewable energy ( specially Wind and Solar ). But renewable energy has yet to establish itself as a sustaining model of energy and accepted by the masses by driving down the cost.Inside of solar energy industry, specifically the model drift has started to develop as efficiency and of some technologies have been challenged. This has happened as not every business model and technology is in a position to drive the cost down and be adopted by the masses. So what would happen is there would be a mergers and acquisitions amongst companies and industry would have to choose , which technologies work best. Other companies and technologies would fade away or remain in margins.There has been a new model in recent times , which challenges the conventional thinking of Kuhn’s paradigm itself. This theory of analytical activism ( http://www.thwink.org/sustain/manuscript1/index.htm ) suggests a new path to circumvent model revolution stage to quickly reach the paradigm shift to become the disruptive innovation.This model charts a path of problem identification, understanding of the problem, solution and eventual implementation to reach paradigm shift.

Taking this into account, renewable energy players have to look at present challenges like efficiency (like in PV,Thin films and organic-inorganic hybrid ), limitations of each technology ( geographically and willingness to pay) and grid and off grid adaptability inside and outside of government incentives and programs.The game has just begun and world is a bit confused over the changes, as happens in any creative work coming out of chaos, so lets wait ,watch and contribute ( after all we all are end users and customers too).Until then let the Sun Rise on renewable energy !Waiting for your feedback and commentscheers Pranay