Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Eight Cool Things About Solar That Just Might Change the World - Part 2

By Kriss Bergethon

In the previous post we discussed the changes that are coming to the solar industry. Here are four more things that will change the photovoltaic industry and help solve our energy problem.

5. Utility Scale Solar is Blossoming
Utility scale solar is PV power for the masses, brought to you through your traditional power lines. Usually the power plants are located in desert areas with ample sunshine. They often use a technology called concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) that uses mirrors, tracking devices, and advanced solar panel technology to squeeze (almost) every drop of energy from sunlight. Due to new federal rules on depreciation, generous tax credits, and technological advances, utilities and investors can install these systems profitably. In the next 5-10 years we will probably see the record for largest CPV installation broken several times over. Projects in Colorado, California, and Arizona are already under way and will vie for the nation's largest when complete.

6. Power Is Getting More Expensive
While this isn't necessarily good news, it's certainly overdue. Until we wrap the true environmental cost of producing carbon into the cost of electricity, our environmental picture will not improve. Whether we do that through cap and trade, a carbon tax, or another way, it means that power is going to cost more in the short term. This increased cost will encourage energy efficiency and drive improvement in the production, transportation, and storage of electricity. It will also make solar power look more attractive.

7. Research Will Only Fuel the Revolution
Speaking of innovation, research and development will change the industry in ways we're not even aware of yet. Our wonderful university research programs are driving tremendous changes in the industry. Energy has become a focus of federal and industry dollars, much the way telecommunications and information technology was in the last decade. College programs now emphasize energy efficiency in all aspects of design and engineering, and integrating solar in buildings, vehicles, and even clothing have become the norm. It seems like every week we hear about a breakthrough in solar panels, thin film solar, and battery technology in our university research programs

8. Massive Investment Will Incubate the Next Energy Stars
One sure sign of change to come is when Silicon Valley venture capital gets involved. These funds are only interested in investing in sectors that are rapidly growing and can make gobs of money in a short time. So when you hear they are investing billions of dollars in photovoltaic technology, and a new deal seems to be coming every week, you can bet there are big things on the horizon. These prognosticators may not be right all the time, but you can bet they don't throw their money away at weak prospects. The same guys who made huge bets on Google, Yahoo, and Netscape are now putting their chips on the energy sector, and specifically solar power.

Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar expert. He and his wife live off the grid in Colorado.

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