The state of open source in solar

 

Around 2016 (more or less) we are going to reach a crossover point, called grid parity. The cost per watt of buying, installing and using a solar system is going to get below the actual cost of buying electricity from the grid, below the cost of generating it with coal or natural gas and transporting it to you.

It’s at this point that I expect open source to shine, because the supply-demand balance will shift. Instead of having to push demand for solar systems, manufacturers will find themselves falling behind demand, just as PC makers began running short (despite production increases) of consumer demand for PCs in the late 1970s, after decades where salesmen had to call on folks to sell mainframes or minicomputers.

When a technology becomes common, when it starts to become standardized, when it has proven itself in the market, that’s when the savings and benefits of open source become obvious.

We’re just getting warmed up.

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UN forecasts boom in ‘green jobs’

Solar panel in Jerez, Spain

Solar panels will be a booming industry, says the report

The UN says millions of new jobs will be created worldwide over the next few decades by the development of alternative energy technologies.

More than a million people already work in biofuels, but a UN report says that could rise by 12 million by 2030.

It says “green jobs” depend on a shift of subsidies from oil and natural gas to wind, solar, and geothermal power.

New jobs could also include the expansion of recycling and making environmentally friendly vehicles.

The report, ‘Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World’, was commissioned and funded by the UN’s Environment Programme (Unep).

It says the manufacture, installation and maintenance of solar panels should add 6.3 million jobs by 2030, while wind power should add more than two million jobs.

Major opportunity

Unep director Achim Steiner said that if the world did not transform to a low-carbon economy it would “miss a major opportunity for the fast tracking of millions of new jobs”.

The report was written before the current global economic crisis.

However, Mr Steiner said that to ditch green energy policies because of the crisis would be a mistake because in the long term the new jobs will make economies stronger and help make goods with less oil and gas.

BBC

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.

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