Back during the energy crisis days of the 1970′s the tern “solar” was on everyone’s lips. At that time it ended up being more of a fad or novelty than a viable solution for anything.
Now in 2011, technology has improved and in light of the recent events and miscues in Japan, the world may be looking for new sources of energy very soon.
I didn’t even realize it, but solar may be now stepping to the forefront. I’ve always been a proponent of the use of solar energy, and I wondered why as our technology improved we didn’t make the development and use of solar power more of a priority.
Suffice to say, we did. Just this week in Forbes, companies like First Solar and SunPower are preparing for the onslaught that may be coming.
FirstSolar is, and has been the biggest name in the solar game for some time now. Covering every aspect of solar power from engineering to consulting and manufacturing, FirstSolar uses their own proprietary technology that powers solar modules with the help of the sun through thin semi-conductors. Their stock currently sits at an all-time high and the company cannot keep up with demand, growing 13% since the Japanese earthquake occurred.
SunPower has seen its stock rise 10 percent since March 15. The maker of silicon solar cells is expecting residential and commercial orders to skyrocket. SunPower is also making strategic acquisitions that will give them the manpower and ability to fill orders if the solar industry keeps growing at its accelerated rate.
It looks like the solar energy industry as a whole will be booming. The Solar Energy Industries Association gave a presentation last week where they divulged that industry revenues went from $3.6 billion in ’09 to $6 billion in ’10, a huge 67 percent increase in one year.
What we also learned is that even though solar energy use is on the upswing in the United States, we are falling behind other countries, especially those in Europe. Countries like Spain, Germany, and Italy are all building more solar facilities that we are. They credit tax breaks and incentives for sudden push for solar plants.
Our president and Congress should take a cue from Europe and make this a priority.
Rick Limpert covers sports, technology and politics in and around Atlanta. He’s charging his solar cells right now.
LONDON – British shoppers can now pick up a solar panel while out grocery shopping as the country’s third largest supermarket J Sainsbury Plc has started to sell renewable energy technology in some stores.
Sainsbury’s Energy — a five-year partnership with British Gas — is offering small solar panels and loft insulation at stores and online so people can start generating their own energy at home.
Its 2.1 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system costs from around 10,000 pounds ($16,310) to install and set up but could pay back a household as much as 22,000 pounds over 25 years.
Sainsbury’s Energy will deliver and install the units and offers customers 10,000 “reward” points, equal to 50 pounds, which can be used to pay for anything from groceries to holidays.
It is estimated that government schemes due to be introduced this summer, which pay households for each unit of renewable electricity produced, could save them an average 600 pounds a year.
However, a recent survey found that 87 percent of UK consumers do not know what small-scale renewable energy is, and 80 percent do not know where to buy the equipment needed.
That could change. Sainsbury hopes to have trained experts giving advice in hundreds of stores across the country by the end of the year.
“Our ambition is for Sainsbury’s Energy to become the number one destination for customers looking for new energy technologies, energy efficiency measures and great energy deals, so we can help them to reduce costs, while also reducing carbon emissions,” said Justin King, Sainsbury’s chief executive.
MILFORD, Conn. – Long before they were installed, the flat panels collecting solar thermal energy on the roof of Glen Mirmina’s Milford home needed a laboratory’s assurance that they could fulfill their manufacturer’s promises.
With only five accredited testing labs in the U.S., though, manufacturers can wait up to two years for those “green” systems to reach the market — and without the certification, buyers like Mirmina can’t claim thousands of dollars in energy conservation tax credits.
Now, two new solar thermal products testing labs are in the works: one at North Carolina State University and the other at Mirmina’s alma mater, the University of New Haven.
The federal government, which is giving them a financial boost, hopes that having more U.S. testing labs will reduce certification delays and boost interest in solar thermal energy as an alternative to oil, natural gas and electricity.
The projects also are giving students at the two universities the chance to design the specialized facilities and, eventually, get hands-on testing experience that could lead to jobs in developing and testing “green” technologies.
“They’re doing real-world engineering, coming up against real-world obstacles and finding ways around them,” said Tommy Cleveland, manager of the new lab in UNH’s Tagliatela College of Engineering. “It’s really drawing on all aspects of engineering.”
Design work for the university’s lab kicked off last fall after the school received $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy and $100,000 from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund. It’s expected to open in 2012.
The North Carolina State lab is closer to completion and could be operating by summer if all stays on schedule.
Both labs are being designed specifically to get accredited by the Florida-based nonprofit Solar Rating and Certification Corp., which sets standards on the reliability and durability of solar products.
Its standards date to 1980, but the laboratory testing delays only started about three years ago when the federal government started tying certain lucrative tax credits to SRCC certification.
None of the five U.S. laboratories that currently are accredited by SRCC to test and certify the items are anywhere near the Northeast. The closest is in Cocoa, Fla., and the others are in Plano, Texas; Menlo Park, Calif.; and Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz.
Other certified labs do the same work in Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, China, Sweden and Switzerland.
For solar thermal collectors like Mirmina’s rooftop panels, the testing determines if they are durable enough to withstand hail and other potential damage, will deliver as much energy as they claim and won’t leak or crack over time.
Cleveland hopes the Connecticut lab will eventually expand enough for testing on other types of solar products, along with research on other energy technologies.
Coincidentally, the North Carolina lab director’s name is also Tommy Cleveland, though the men were unaware of each other until learning they were in the same specialized field and building the same kinds of specialized labs.
Joey Dorwart, director of Sunlight Solar Energy in Milford, said the shortage of accredited labs and the testing delays have a direct effect on manufacturers and on companies like his that sell and install solar thermal systems.
It limits the types of equipment from which buyers can choose and the amount that distributors have on hand, and makes it slower for manufacturers to get the next generation of products on the market quickly, he said.
Mirmina, 41, said he spent almost $11,000 on the solar thermal energy system he bought to run his new home’s water heater, but is recouping about half of the amount with state and federal tax credits — and will recoup the rest in the money he saves over the next several years.
The three flat rooftop panels collect solar energy in tubes containing a syrupy substance that gets hot, much like water in a garden hose heats when it sits in the sun.
The substance, propylene glycol, circulates in a constant flow through vertical tubes inside the walls and down to a coil inside his basement water storage tanks, warming the water that Mirmina and his family will use for showers, dishes and everyday life when they move into the house that’s still under construction.
Some people also use solar thermal energy to heat their swimming pools, usually in warm-weather locations where sunlight is abundant.
Mirmina’s water storage tank is connected to the home’s electrical supply as a backup, though the solar system has held enough thermal energy even on cloudy days that it hasn’t needed to kick over to electricity yet.
Mirmina, an engineer at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., said he looked at geothermal technologies that take advantage of the Earth’s heat, but settled on the solar thermal system because he was more comfortable with it. The SRCC certification provided by accredited labs added to his comfort level, especially since the tax incentives translate to thousands of dollars in savings.
“The more labs there are, the more developed it becomes as a technology and the less it might be viewed as a novelty — and you don’t want a novelty in a home you want to live in for the next 50 years,” he said.