There is no “one” solar answer. Solar comes in all shapes and sizes: from rooftop panels and peel-and-stick window film, to boats and backpacks, solar “ivy” and solar “leaves,” giant concentrated solar arrays and recycled plastic bottles. Almost daily there is news of improved efficiency, better batteries and more products available off-the-shelf.
Costs are tumbling, too—and not just because the Chinese have heavily subsidized the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, undercutting everyone else in the market. Solar, finally, is enjoying the benefits of scaling up.
This year, the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon saw home construction costs come in third cheaper than in 2009. The expense and learning curve of prototypes has given way to the savings of lessons learned.
It is that kind of bargain-happy free market decision-making that has Chevron—yes,Chevron—scrapping pricey natural gas in favor of a concentrated solar power (CSP) array to heat water for steam to to make heavy crude oil thin enough to pump: new sun to mine ancient sun. Beyond the obvious irony, this promises to quickly ramp up into a multi-billion dollar business.
Elsewhere, vast arrays of photo voltaic panels are sprouting everywhere, from a capped garbage dump turned “energy park,” to a Victorian-era London bridge. Both are pilot projects, but expect many more to follow. There are an estimated 100,000 aging landfills in the US prime for PV.
Cutting right to the chase—no power generation required—in the Philippines, soda bottles are being recycled into 55 watt wireless lights through an ingenious design courtesy of MIT’s D-Lab. “Bottle bulbs” inserted into tin roofs bring free daylight into otherwise dark interiors, reducing the need—and expense—of air-fouling kerosene.
So let there be light! And power. And cheaper energy. And a cleaner planet, too.
- A leaf that could power the future / Erin Ailworth / Boston Globe
- 10 Solar Decathlon lessons / Steve Leone / Renewable Energy World
- Transforming the Solar Market / Rebecca Cole / Rocky Mountain Institute
- The U.S. Military Leads the Charge on Renewables, Efficiency and Energy Security / Bracken Hendricks, Daniel J. Weiss, Lisbeth Kaufman / Climate Progress
- Pay as you go solar power makes energy cheaper / Jacob Aron / New Scientist
- Solar plant generates at night / Solar World Daily
- Spain’s solar tower / James May (video)
- Solar boat promotes path to cleaner fuel / Anna Coren / CNN
- Frito-Lay Opens ‘Near Net Zero’ Facility / Environmental Leader
- Take Anywhere Solar Chargers / Debra Atlas / GreenHome, Sierra Club
- Sulfur in hollow nanofibers overcomes challenges of lithium-ion battery design/ Sarah Jane Keller / Stanford University News