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.'”

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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.

Let it shine, III

Look at what those clever elves have been up to — the photo cells are built into the Spanish roof tiles:

Sustainable, friendly ... and beautiful!

Sustainable, friendly ... and beautiful!

Solar players show off their wares

July 16, 2008 2:37 PM PDT
Caption text by Elsa Wenzel

In Europe, Intersolar is known as one of the world’s largest solar conferences. The San Francisco arm of the event, held this week alongside Semicon West at the Moscone Center, is expected to draw 12,000 attendees.

Japan to Cut the Cost of Solar 50%

solar array

Japan imports a lot of its raw materials and fossil fuels are no exception. The country however is the 2nd largest global market for solar energy, and is home to some of the largest solar component manufacturers, including Sanyo, Kyocera, and Sharp.

The Japanese government will introduce tax credits and subsidies to encourage household use of solar energy starting next year. The details will be determined in August when the budget is created. The incentive will decrease the cost of a solar photovoltaic system by an estimated 50% within 3 to 5 years.

This initiative will make solar energy especially appealing because the cost of electricity in Japan is already over $.20 a kWh. This is roughly double the rate of electricity found in many areas of the US. Increased production of solar components can help the cost to decrease by creating an economy of scale. This solar incentive will also assist Japan in becoming more energy independent and less reliant on volatile fossil fuel markets.

triplepundit

New technologies taking over

The atmosphere here is less high tech than high school chemistry lab, and Global Solar’s days in this cramped Tucson, Ariz., facility are history. The company is shifting production to a sparkling factory just a few miles down the road. The new facility is fast enough to churn out 40 megawatts’ worth of thin-film solar panels a year, more than 10 times Global Solar’s previous capacity.

It’s a story being repeated throughout the solar world, from the Southwest to Silicon Valley to Germany. Everywhere you look, thin-film solar companies are opening new, more efficient factories. The thin in thin film refers to the skinny layers of photoactive chemicals needed for the technology, as compared with the thicker films used in crystalline-silicon solar modules. Though thin-film photovoltaics are cheaper than the crystalline ones on most rooftop solar panels, the technology has proved maddeningly difficult to mass-produce, which had kept it from going mainstream. But today thin film is the hottest part of the fastest-growing new energy source in the world. BCC Research, which charts technology markets, expects the global solar market to grow from $13 billion to $32 billion by 2012, with thin film expanding 45% a year. Masdar, the clean-energy arm of the government of Abu Dhabi, just announced that it will invest $2 billion in thin film. “Crystalline silicon has had its day,” says Peter Harrop, chairman of the London-based research firm IDTechEx. “These new technologies will be taking over.”

Time