Let the Sun Shine In

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

Engineer Steve Robbins displays a sheet of 'thin film' solar cells at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) March 3, 2009 in Golden, Colorado. Thin film solar panels, at relatively low cost and highly adaptable because of their flexibility, have quickly come to dominate the U.S. market in the last two years.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Thin Solar Cells

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

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.

Adapted from: Rachels Newsletter, The Guardian, and Business Week.

Random Rays of Hope

  • 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.

Excerpted from "Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007" by Jonathan G. Dorn, Earth Policy Institute.

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