Solar goes kuh-ching!

Let it shine

Let it shine

FREMONT, California — Solar cells have been converting sunlight into electricity for years, but scientists have been much less successful at turning that technology into money.

Now, in a staid Bay Area office park, a converted hard-drive factory with a shiny new façade has begun churning out unconventional solar tubes that could change the economics of solar power.

The highly-automated factory belongs to Solyndra, a three-year-old company that has received $600 million in venture capital and $1.2 billion in orders for its new modules, which look like curtain rods. Those big investors are betting the company’s unique product will soon blanket commercial buildings across the world.

Instead of the standard panels mounted on racks that have dominated solar for the last 20 years, Solyndra’s cylindrical solar modules collect sunlight more efficiently across a broader range of angles and catch light reflected off the roof itself. The solar cells also contain no silicon, which has been a costly component of most solar systems.

Targeted at a highly specific market — office and big-box rooftops — and with signed contracts in hand, the company, along with a small cadre of other well-funded solar startups, are racing to turn their scientific and engineering marvels into profitable businesses.

The scramble, the money, and the size of the prize — a big slice of the trillions of dollars made in energy — remind the company’s founder, Chris Gronet, of his earlier experience in the industry that became the basis for the information revolution.

“We think the solar industry or market look very similar to the way semiconductor manufacturing was 20 years ago,” Gronet, Solyndra’s CEO, told Wired.com. “We say, ‘Wow this is familiar. We’ve been through this before.'”

SciAm

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Green Jobs Now

Join us and tens of thousands of Americans of all backgrounds for an unprecedented National Day of Action calling for Green Jobs Now: Build the New Economy. 

On Saturday, September 27th, the We Campaign, 1Sky, and Green for All will hold events across the country to send the message that it is time to Repower America with 100% clean electricity within 10 years and lift people out of poverty.

September 27th is only one week away, so sign up to host or attend an event today! It’s easy and it’ll be fun.

The solutions to our climate crisis are simple. Make the switch to clean, renewable energy, end our dependence on fossil fuels, and revitalize our economy. With energy costs and utility bills increasing unchecked, and millions of green collar jobs at stake, there is no time to waste.

We’ll be there on September 27th to say it’s time to Repower America with Green Jobs Now. Sign up today and join us!

From your mouth to God’s ear

The Wrong Energy Agenda

Conservatives should rethink their solution to our energy problems. Instead of more drilling, it’s time for small-scale enterprises, argues guest columnist Byron Kennard

In response to the nation’s energy problems, Republican politicians are calling for extensive and rapid deployment of large-scale technological solutions: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; offshore oil development; construction of scores of new coal-fired and nuclear power plants; and development of clean coal technologies (coal-burning power stations equipped with carbon capture and sequestration gizmos).

To meet the rhetorical standards of an American Presidential campaign, this large-scale technology agenda has been distilled into a single mantra: “Drill more, drill now.” (Does this sound to anyone else like the business plan for a dentist?)

Large-scale technologies are, by definition, centralized. What’s more, their social and economic effects are centralizing. Deploying more large-scale technologies means we will become even more dependent on remote energy sources. Why do conservatives, who are philosophically committed to decentralized, small-scale approaches, opt for just the opposite when it comes to energy technology?

It’s not as if there were no small-scale technological solutions already available. There are plenty, indeed, starting with dramatic increases in conservation and efficiency, both of which can pay off hugely simply because Americans are such big—and needless—wasters of energy. This calls for thrift and prudence, both old-time virtues by any standard. Plus, increased conservation and efficiency will save consumers and businesses tons of money, which ought to please conservatives.

Small-Source Energy

On top of this, hundreds of new clean and renewable-energy technologies are flooding the market, most of them small-scale. These make possible the “distributed generation” of energy; that is energy generated from small sources on-site—solar, wind, fuel cells—and used nearby, maybe even in the same building. How much more decentralized can you get?

These small-scale technologies are not being produced by tree-hugging, anti-growth fanatics, or big government regulatory zealots, or closet socialists. They are coming from entrepreneurial small businesses whose owners are every bit as likely to be Republicans as Democrats.

Republicans profess to love entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship has much more to do with small scale enterprise than large. Big businesses are seldom entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs are seldom found in big businesses. We can afford to fail on the small scale but not on the big scale.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

This has been true throughout history. Tinkerers working in garages created the Industrial Age, remember? Their modern day counterparts, working on computers, are creating the post-Industrial Age. In this new era, little businesses are running rings around big businesses. Entrepreneurial small firms actually produce five times as many patents per dollar as large companies and 20 times as many as universities, according to the National Small Business Association, a trade group.

Contemplating this, one would think that entrepreneur-loving conservative politicians would be in seventh heaven. But don’t look for them there. Where you’ll find them is in bed with big business, cozily scheming to maintain the status quo.

Big businesses are exceptionally fond of the status quo, and not just because of the manifold subsidies they enjoy. Another reason is they don’t know how to get their hands on all these emerging small-scale technologies. These innovations are so numerous, so varied, and evolving so rapidly that no one can stay on top of them.

Innovative Speed

Indeed, the quickening pace of innovation puts big systems more and more at a disadvantage. No matter how quickly and how often big systems retool, something better comes along even before they finish.

Since big businesses don’t yet know how to control these small-scale technologies, or—most important—how to make money off them, they are content to pat them on the head, comment on how cute they are, and observe that in 20 or 30 years, when they grow up, such technologies might indeed be an option.

Surfing, the future: 2

The Channel Wire
August 27, 2008

Mozilla Labs has opened its doors again to share its ingenuity with the rest of the Web. Looking for a way to change the way we browse, Mozilla Labs has launched Ubiquity, a visual interface that plugs into Firefox, Mozilla’s open source browser, and may change the way users interact with the Web.

It’s still a little early in Ubiquity’s life to call it a game changer, but there are some promising elements in place.

Writing on the Mozilla Labs blog, Aza Raskin lays out the plan for Mozilla’s Ubiquity. “Today we’re announcing the launch of Ubiquity, a Mozilla Labs experiment into connecting the Web with language in an attempt to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily,” wrote Raskin.

Right now adding a map to an email requires you to go to an online map service, type in an address, copy the link and paste it into the email for the recipient to click on and peruse. Ubiquity changes that approach. By installing Ubiquity on a machine with Firefox, users can open the Ubiquity window, type in the address they are looking for, insert the image into an email message and send it along.

Not satisfied with just the map? Maybe you want to attach a review of the restaurant where a group of friends are meeting up? Ubiquity can search Yelp and attach the review to the same email. Now all the information the recipient needs is on hand and in one message.

Currently, Ubiquity is only compatible with Gmail. And that’s just one example of what Ubiquity can do. Google searches, Wikipedia searches, a calculator function and text translator are just a few of the other functionalities that come built into Ubiquity.

ChannelWeb

Let It Shine, IV

‘Major discovery’ from MIT primed to

unleash solar revolution

Scientists mimic essence of plants’ energy storage system

Anne Trafton, News Office
July 31, 2008

In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today’s announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Requiring nothing but abundant, non-toxic natural materials, this discovery could unlock the most potent, carbon-free energy source of all: the sun. “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy at MIT and senior author of a paper describing the work in the July 31 issue of Science. “Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution. Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon.”

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Easy, Pickens

T. Boone Pickens is an American original — in a nation known for producing larger-than-life individuals.

I applaud him for his daring, for the breadth of his vision, for the timeliness of his plan.

He is clearly a man of remarkable intelligence — as are George Will and Charles Krauthammer.

None of them seem able to quit emitting CO2. Why can they not see an electric future?

Are they simply too old? Do they enjoy some strange affinity for their fellow fossils?