America’s Real Problem with Solar Energy

Each day, our industry sits down and whittles the unsightly knots off the tree we call solar energy. We, as a group, spend more time than we should pointing to one of a growing number of reasons why solar energy isn’t taking hold in America: that perhaps our government incentives were cut too quickly, that our state’s SREC program is broken, that the net metering requirements aren’t strong enough.

Not that those things wouldn’t further bolster our industry, but go out and ask your friends and family about solar energy. The problem with solar energy in America isn’t a result of the deficiencies of the incentives (although improved incentives would set this industry on fire), it’s with the astounding lack of knowledge about a technology that can transform the lives of everyone in our nation and around the world.

Written by Ter Dines. To read the full article, click here

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More bases accepting solar power as an energy alternative

Airmen can expect to see more solar panels throughout their bases, in their neighborhoods and even on their rooftops.

Plans call for solar power to make up 58 percent of the military’s renewable energy capability by 2017, according to a report released in May by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Air Force expects to generate 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2016. Its goal is to have enough renewable energy to supply 25 percent of all installation electricity use by 2025, Air Force officials announced last year.

With solar energy already juicing up Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Davis-Monthan, Ariz., and projects in the works for others, the latest project is underway at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Dubbed SolarStrong, the program plans to provide solar power for up to 120,000 military homes within a five-year plan across the U.S.

Written by Oriana Pawlyk. To read the full article, click here

Can You Have Too Much Solar Energy?

It’s been a long, dark winter in Germany. In fact, there hasn’t been this little sun since people started tracking such things back in the early 1950s. Easter is around the corner, and the streets of Berlin are still covered in ice and snow. But spring will come, and when the snow finally melts, it will reveal the glossy black sheen of photovoltaic solar panels glinting from the North Sea to the Bavarian Alps.
Solar panels line Germany’s residential rooftops and top its low-slung barns. They sprout in orderly rows along train tracks and cover hills of coal mine tailings in what used to be East Germany. Old Soviet military bases, too polluted to use for anything else, have been turned into solar installations.
Twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is generated with renewables. Solar provides close to a quarter of that. The southern German state of Bavaria, population 12.5 million, has three photovoltaic panels per resident, which adds up to more installed solar capacity than in the entire United States.

Written by Andrew Curry. To read the full article, click here

Solar power is part of the energy solution

As a homeowner with solar panels who has used zero kilowatts off the grid during the last two months, I found the June 10 news article “When the sun doesn’t shine, who pays?” very interesting. If I understand correctly, the power industry says I should pay an additional fee because I need the industry less than others do.

Such logic raises questions as to how far the industry might go. If I make energy-efficiency decisions that my neighbor does not make, I pay less. If I choose to sit in the dark at night, I pay less. So should my utility then be allowed to charge me additional fees for those decisions, too?

Perhaps, instead, the industry should invest in renewable energy and smart-grid technologies, reward energy efficiencies and promote rate decoupling. That would provide a long-term equitable solution for all their customers.

Written by Robert Keller. To read the full article, click here

Solar Power Heads in a New Direction: Thinner

Cambridge, Mass. — Most efforts at improving solar cells have focused on increasing the efficiency of their energy conversion, or on lowering the cost of manufacturing. But now MIT researchers are opening another avenue for improvement, aiming to produce the thinnest and most lightweight solar panels possible.

Such panels, which have the potential to surpass any substance other than reactor-grade uranium in terms of energy produced per pound of material, could be made from stacked sheets of one-molecule-thick materials such as graphene or molybdenum disulfide.

Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT, says the new approach “pushes towards the ultimate power conversion possible from a material” for solar power. Grossman is the senior author of anew paper describing this approach, published in the journal Nano Letters.

Although scientists have devoted considerable attention in recent years to the potential of two-dimensional materials such as graphene, Grossman says, there has been little study of their potential for solar applications. It turns out, he says, “they’re not only OK, but it’s amazing how well they do.”

Written by David Chandler. To read the full article, click here

Sun Plus Nanotechnology: Can Solar Energy Get Bigger by Thinking Small?

Nearly 60 years after researchers first demonstrated a way to convert sunlight into energy, science is still grappling with a critical limitation of the solar photovoltaic cell.

It just isn’t that efficient at turning the tremendous power of the sun into electricity.

And even though commercial solar cells today have double to four times the 6 percent efficiency of the one first unveiled in 1954 by Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, that hasn’t been sufficient to push fossil fuel from its preeminent place in the world energy mix.

But now, alternative energy researchers think that something really small—nanotechnology, the engineering of structures a fraction of the width of a human hair—could give a gigantic boost to solar energy. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Solar Power.”)

“Advances in nanotechnology will lead to higher efficiencies and lower costs, and these can and likely will be significant,” explains Matt Beard, a senior scientist for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). “In fact, nanotechnology is already having dramatic effects on the science of solar cells.”

Written by Patrick J. Kiger. To read the full article, click here

Plane Powered by Solar Energy Completes Trek Across U.S.

Planes make trips across the U.S. all the time. Nothing too special, right? Except a solar-powered one just traveled cross-country for the first time.

The Solar Impulse, which is a solar-powered plane, traveled from San Francisco in early May to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. It finally landed at 11:09 p.m. last Saturday night.

What took the plane so long, you ask? It made stops in between San Francisco and New York in cities such as Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Dulles, St. Louis and Cincinnati.

The Solar Impulse is equipped with about 11,000 solar cells on a pair of jumbo wings. It would fly from early morning to late at night, collecting sunlight for a completely fuel-free flight. The aircraft would reach 30,000 feet off the ground at a top speed of 45 mph.

Written by Tiffany Kaiser. To read the full article, click here