A Material That Could Make Solar Power “Dirt Cheap”

A new type of solar cell, made from a material that is dramatically cheaper to obtain and use than silicon, could generate as much power as today’s commodity solar cells.

Although the potential of the material is just starting to be understood, it has caught the attention of the world’s leading solar researchers, and several companies are already working to commercialize it.

Researchers developing the technology say that it could lead to solar panels that cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt. Solar panels now typically cost about 75 cents a watt, and the U.S. Department of Energy says 50 cents per watt will allow solar power to compete with fossil fuel.

In the past, solar researchers have been divided into two camps in their pursuit of cheaper solar power. Some have sought solar cells that can be made very cheaply but that have the downside of being relatively inefficient. Lately, more researchers have focused on developing very high efficiency cells, even if they require more expensive manufacturing techniques.

Written by Kevin Bullis. To read the full article, click here.

Transparent Solar Film Gets Big Efficiency Boost

A novel, transparent, two-layer solar film — possessing an impressive efficiency conversion of 7.3% — has been created by researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles. This is about double the transparent solar cell efficiency the researchers had previously achieved. The solar film can be placed on windows, buildings, sunroofs, electronics displays, etc; harvesting energy while still at the same time allowing light to pass through and visibility/transparency to be maintained.

The new solar film is essentially an improved form of the “breakthrough photovoltaic cell design” that the same researchers unveiled last year – an improved form with nearly double the efficiency, that is. It consists of two thin polymer solar cells that work together to maximize sunlight collection and conversion to electricity — the two cells absorb more light than single-layer solar devices do because together they absorb light from a wider part of the solar spectrum. There’s also a thin layer of ‘novel materials’ present between the two cells that works to reduce energy loss.

Written by Nathan. To read the full article, click here.

Charging Your Electric Vehicle with Solar Energy

Here’s a good article that analyzes the eco-friendliness of electric transportation that makes a point that I try to emphasize in my discussions on the subject: the EV “selection effect.” The vast majority of EV buyers at this point make their decision based on their interest in protecting and preserving the environment, and are extremely likely to charge their cars with solar energy, i.e., “green people buy green cars and green electricity.”

The article (and those it links to) makes the usual error, however, of discussing the average preponderance of coal in the grid-mix, as if this has bearing on the validity of EVs from an ecologic standpoint. The real question, of course, is: Where does the energy come from when you put an incremental load on the grid in most portions of the U.S. in the middle of the night? And the answer, because it’s the least expensive form of baseload, is coal.

But again, let’s not lose sight of the selection effect. As the gentleman interviewed says, “At least 56 percent of all EV owners in California, who make up 35 percent of EV owners in the U.S., either have or are installing solar panels in their homes, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy, California.”

Written by 2GreenEnergy. To read the full article, click here.

Window Socket: Portable Solar-Powered Outlet Sticks to Windows, Charges Small Electronics

The Window Socket is an idea so fabulously simple, it’s slightly amazing that we haven’t seen one before. Designed by Kyuho Song & Boa Oh, the charger sticks to a window and draws solar power to an internal battery, which enables one to either plug in small devices to the outlet right there and then, or save the stored power for use during night time hours.

According to Yanko Design, Kyuho Song & Boa Oh “tried to design a portable socket, so that users can use it intuitively without special training.” It sticks to a window with a suction plate that encircles the solar panel, and a basic outlet feeds the converted solar power to a device—and that’s pretty much it. As the designers point out, this is a charger/converter that can be used anywhere there’s daylight, particularly where there is restricted use of electricity, such as outdoors or on a plane.

At present, the Window Socket is still a concept, but in the near future the designers hope to increase its efficiency, energy storage and charge time. The battery on the Window Socket is very small; at 1000mAh the stored power might be about enough to charge a mobile phone—particularly if it were a USB outlet rather than a standard one, but it won’t be enough to power household appliances. And while it can provide 10 continuous hours of power on a full charge, it presently takes about 5-8 hours to fully charge. But even that can’t completely take a way from it’s awesome, simple design.

Written by Charley Cameron. To read the full article, click here.

What Is So Magical About 25-Year Warranties In Solar?

25 years. Two and a half decades. The Silver Anniversary. 13,140,000 minutes (sorry, I saw a community theater version of Rent this weekend, and I love this song).
The most common length for warranties in the solar industry.
Which begs four questions:
What’s so magical about 25 years that solar manufacturers have fixated on it as the warranty length?
Is there really reliable testing to provide hard data that the components of a system will last that long?
Were these warranty lengths chosen only to reassure the financiers that solar was a safe investment?
As President Josiah Bartlett famously used to ask — what’s next?
These questions came up in several discussion I had with manufacturers at the recent Intersolar North America 2013 show, as reliability created a huge buzz at the show (I discussed my theory about why this question is so prevalent now while I was actually at the show). And now I can’t stop thinking about it.
What will happen after 25 years? Assuming all the components last that long (I’m not saying they won’t), what happens when they inevitably start degrading? After all, everything breaks down eventually (even the human body, the most exquisite engineering feat in the history of the world).

Written by Frank Andorka. To read the full article, click here.

Build your own solar panels? Proceed with caution

A number of people have asked me about building their own solar panels from individual solar cells and asking for my opinion on a number of web sites that make claims that you can build enough solar panels to power your home for around $200.

I have a huge amount of respect for people with the aptitude and the ability to build their own equipment. These people often derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from being able to say, “I built that myself”. Largely, these people are to be encouraged. If you want to build your own solar panels, however, I would advise caution.

There have been many claims made from certain web sites that say it is possible to build your own solar panels and run your entire house from solar panels for an outlay of $200 or less, sell excess power back to the utility grid and even generate an income from solar.

Written by Michael Boxwell. To read the full article, click here.

What You Need to Know About Shopping for Solar Panels

Following a record-breaking year for rooftop solar panels in the U.S. in 2012, you can expect a flood of information overload on how to go about getting solar panels installed on your rooftop. Choosing the right solar panel service company has long required a considerable amount of detective work to figure out what you want and what you need.

As with any retail service, consumers should expect to deal in a straightforward manner with installers and get what they’re promised. Most consumers, though, have no previous experience shopping for solar, so it’s more difficult to spot shady language in a contract or missing steps in the purchase process. An online search of solar installers in your town could turn up a long list of companies.

To help you combat the mass of information, as well as any misinformation, we created this cheat sheet of things you should consider:

Written by Ucilia Wang. To read the full article, click here.