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Let the Sun Shine In (and some wind, too)

Renewables are taking off :: Production of photovoltaics jumps, technologies are refined and new infrastructure developed

Thin Solar Cells

Nanosolar photovotaic cells are printed on aluminum foil, cutting their cost in half. Photo courtesy nanosolar.com
Photo courtesy nanosolar.com

A company in Palo Alto, California, will began manufacturing wafer-thin solar-electric photovoltaic cells by “printing” them onto aluminum foil, which insiders say will cut the cost of solar-cells in half. (Photovoltaics convert sunlight directly into electricity.) Nanosolar’s aim is solar panels that cost 99 cents per watt—a number that has been the holy grail of solar cell manufacturers for 40 years. The company is one of several in Japan, Europe, China, and the U.S. racing to develop thin film solar. Nanosolar is owned by Martin Roscheisen, an Internet millionaire, with support from the founders of Google and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

 

Offshore Wind Power

Offshore wind turbines could power the nine coastal states from Massachusetts to North Carolina, according to a new assessment of off-shore wind potential. Another study published earlier in 2007 shows that connecting dispersed wind farms into a single grid in the Midwestern U.S. can create a source of reliable, base-load (steady, rather than intermittent) power, even without storage.

 

Storing Wind Underground

Plan for storing Wind energy underground as compressed air. Graphic from http://www.ecogeek.org/images/image/windstorage.jpg

A Dallas Center, Iowa, plant will store wind energy by pumping air underground, where it will be compressed for energy storage and later released to boost the efficiency of a natural gas turbine. A 3,000 megawatt wind farm in west Texas being developed by TXU Corp. and Shell Wind Energy will use a similar storage technique. The Electric Power Research Institute says there may be subterranean features under more than 85 percent of U.S. soil that could hold compressed air, making storage of large quantities of wind or solar power possible.

 

Random Rays of Hope

First Nanosolar Utility Panels shipped and deployed in Germany in a free-field plant installation. Photo by Willi Breuer, courtesy of Nanosolar, www.nanosolar.com/media
First Nanosolar Utility Panels shipped and deployed in Germany in a free-field plant installation.
Photo by Willi Breuer nanosolar.com
  • Production of photovoltaics jumped 50 percent in 2007 over 2006. At the end of the year, cumulative global production stood at 12,400 megawatts, enough to power 2.4 million U.S. homes.

  • After almost tripling its PV production in 2006, China is believed to have more than doubled output in 2007. China is planning a 100-megawatt solar PV farm in Dunhuang City in Gansu Province, which would have five times the capacity of the largest PV power plant in the world today.

  • The average price for a PV module, excluding installation and other system costs, has dropped from almost $100 per watt in 1975 to about $4 per watt.

 


 

This article is part of Stop Global Warming Cold, the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. First three stories adapted from: Rachels Newsletter, The Guardian, and Business Week. Last story excerpted from “Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007” by Jonathan G. Dorn, Earth Policy Institute.
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