July 16, 2009
By: Daniel Maysick
A picture of a future grounded in solar energy is sharpening as the vision is coming into focus. The pieces of the puzzle are lining up ready to be placed into their appropriate position. Each individual piece ready to fulfill its job. The time for solar energy is here.
The rhetoric has remained strong over the past few years for renewable energy all the while the infrastructure, financing mechanisms, and willingness to use green energy were cementing foundations.
The economic slowdown hasn't dismantled the drive towards a green future. Global demand continues to rise reports Bloomberg.com writer Dinakar Sethuraman.
"The global financial crisis may not affect investment in renewable energy projects this year as countries strive to cut emissions of pollutants and reach a new climate-change agreement, the International Energy Agency said.
"The IEA is preparing a report to assess the impact of the global recession and the credit crunch on spending in renewable energy. New investment in clean energy projects worldwide climbed to $24.3 billion in the second quarter this year from $13.3 billion in the first, driven by programs in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, New Energy Finance, a London-based consultant, said in a report on July 2."
Cruising through other recent headlines posted on Bloomberg.com strengthens the position for a growing renewable energy economy. Furthermore, the energy and environmental agenda of President Obama attracts many headlines.
Continued investment is good news for consumers. As companies jockey for market position and continue their research, prices will continue to fall and efficiencies will continue to rise. Recently U.S. industry solar manufacturing leader First Solar announced they achieved solar panel production for less than a dollar a kilo-watt. The news was widely circulated among blogs earlier this year.
From Michael Richard Graham at treehugger.com
"The $1 per watt price point has been a goal of the solar industry for a long time: First Solar announced that ‘it reduced its manufacturing cost for solar modules in the fourth quarter to 98 cents per watt'. It's a bit unfortunate that it is happening to First Solar at a time when the economy is in bad shape and fewer people and corporations can afford solar panels, but it is nonetheless a great achievement.
"So capacity is doubling this year, while manufacturing costs are now 66.6% lower than they were 5 years ago. That's what I call progress!"
Costs will continue to fall as more companies join the race and they each bring their own improvements and innovations to market. Another substantial cost cut benefit was recently achieved by scientist at the General Physics Institute in collaboration with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Their research focused on refining silicon production methods for solar applications. Nanotechnologynow.com has the story:
"Cost of polysilicon manufacturing using traditional approach is high primarily due to very high electrical energy consumption. In proposed technology the electricity consumption is several orders of magnitude less (about 20-40 kW.h/kg), which leads to a substantially lower cost (at least 10 times). Thanks to the microwave discharge narrow area localization, the plasma does not touch the device's walls, which allows increasing the purity of final product. The product's purity only depends on the purity of initial reagents. Thus this product could be used not only for the solar elements manufacturing, but even to grow the monocrystalline silicon with electronics grades."
The article is filled with technical jargon, but all leads to the point that a purer method of refining silicon is paired with a less energy intensive method.
At the same time prices are falling, the options to finance the endeavors are becoming more creative and bountiful. Many incentives and tax credits abound. Some communities pay the upfront costs to install solar panels on a person's property and figure payback terms into property taxes. And interestingly enough a new line of banks is emerging specializing in loans directed at green technologies. The NY Times wrote about the growth of green banks in Green Blog Inc.
"Green banks - designed to aid environmentally conscious businesses and consumers through better loan rates and other incentives - are sprouting up around the country despite the recession.
"Recent examples include E3bank in Philadelphia; the First Green Bank in Florida; and GreenChoice Bank in Chicago. Other examples, like ShoreBank Pacific and the Green Bank of Houston, have been around for a few years."
Some uncertainty surrounds the profitability and soundness of such banks. Some will succeed, others may not. Regardless the risk taking, entrepreneurship, technology investments suggest this most recent drive to sustainable energy is here to stay, no longer a fad or passing interest.