I completely don’t believe that solar technology is consciously delayed by oil industry supposedly afraid of competition. Why should they be afraid of competition with oil price $100? It is clear as day that they will be able to sell for high price all oil they have. If Oil industry believed that solar energy can compete, they would develop it themselves, as for example GE joined in making wind turbines.
I think it is very bad sign that most authors in this thread propose this explanation – it shows that level of education in energy issues is low, and any energy policy that will be driven by public debate (and politics) will be foolish. We can already see this in actively promoting foolish policy like hydrogen car fuel, and little bit less foolish policies like ethanol car fuel, and spending peoples money on subsidizing uncompetitive solar energy.
I think reason of delayed solar advances is technical – some problems is more difficult to solve than others, and it is difficult to use distributed energy source like solar energy. Energy fusion of man space travel are in even worse shape. Actually different areas of technology are developed in wildly different speeds – and now in my opinions only two technologies are developing really fast – computers and genetic biotechnology. Of course PV solar energy has something in common this electronics production, but apparently not enough. computers become cheaper because we can put more in given amount of silicone, not because silicone becomes cheaper.
Other explanation is costs – but this is trivial explanation. Of course if solar energy would be cheap people would use it more. The problem is why nobody found the way to cheaply use solar energy. As explained above, I think reason is technical and difficulty of dealing with distributed sources. I generally agree with William explanations why solar energy is expensive.
On the other side, I don’t believe that cost of electricity will rise 10 times so current version of solar energy will suddenly become competitive. Even if we finish Oil and natural gas, we still have nuclear energy and coal without obvious resource limits. Only potential problems with coal and nuclear energy are political. But I doubt, that USA people will be so foolish to allow green politicians to prohibit coal and nuclear energy (and hydro energy) and instead pay for 10 times more expensive solar energy. If such thing happens it would be catastrophe for USA.