30 January 2012
Solar energy is an alternative energy source that is moving into the mainstream and nothing proves this more than the Solar Decathlon. In these competitions, university students from around the world display family-friendly off-the-grid homes that they design and build themselves. In October 2011, the Solar Decathlon was held on the Washington Mall in Washington, DC (US) where students competed in 10 different categories, including affordability, thus demonstrating that it is possible to afford and live quite comfortably in a sustainable home. The Solar Decathlon Europe takes place in Madrid, Spain in September of this year and the Solar Decathlon China will take place in August 2013 in Datong.
The Solar Decathlon is a great way to demonstrate dependable solar solutions to the general public.
The Solar Decathlon is a great way to demonstrate dependable solar solutions to the general public, but it is also getting the next generation involved with solar in a very real way. Solar on college campuses is becoming commonplace. Schools around the world have set carbon-reduction goals and for many that means installing solar. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, US solar capacity has jumped 450% in three years. Not only is solar a great way to reduce carbon in the atmosphere by reducing the use of fossil fuels, but it sets an example for tomorrow’s leaders as to how alternate energy can work alongside other energy sources. Solar installations also serve as an on-site classroom, such as the SolFocus installation at Victor Valley Community College. For more about solar installations by colleges and universities, read “Solar on College Campuses”.
In the public eye
In the long, hot summer of 2011, Sungevity sponsored a Popsicle truck that pulled into cities across the US and distributed free Popsicles. The attraction was not so much the fact that the Popsicles were free, but that the bus used solar energy to keep the Popsicles cold. The orange truck with pop-up solar panels was hard to miss! Sungevity also put solar in the public eye when it took over all advertising on Amtrak’s Acela Express, a train that connects key cities in the northeastern US.
Google’s total investment in the solar sector is now more than $915 million.
What investors are more in the public eye than Warren Buffett and Google? Buffett’s company, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, recently purchased the Topaz solar project from First Solar and took a 49% stake in the Agua Caliente plant, also being built by First Solar and now owned in part by NRG. Google also sees promise in solar. After partnering with private equity firm KKR & Co. to buy four solar plants in California from Recurrent Energy, Google’s total investment in the solar sector is now more than $915 million.
Then there are the rooftops of some of our favourite retailers. IKEA, for example, which has 330 stores in 40 countries, has committed to solar in a big way. Of its US stores 85% are currently scheduled to have solar panels, with a total generating capacity of 31.6MW. Kohl’s, a US-based department store chain, is the largest single retail host of solar electricity in North America with solar currently on 116 stores, generating a total of 34.3MW of power.
Solar as a commodity
The Consumer Electronics Show is where the latest consumer gadgets are launched in the US and this year solar generators and other solar products were everywhere. Solar is now on just about anything and everything that could be run by a battery. Solar home kits are available from companies like SiliconSolar, designed to help the do-it-yourselfer to go solar in a weekend. Solar comes in a kit for professional installers, too, from companies like Kyocera and Westinghouse. Then there are the products that turn ordinary building supplies into solar power generators, such as the Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles. The bottom line is that solar is now simple to use.
Need for consistent government support
What is needed is strong, consistent and widespread public and government support.
The cost of solar panels has dropped more than 50% in the past two years, and they continue to drop. This is great for those purchasing solar but it makes it harder for panel makers to make a profit. So it is not surprising that some have failed to thrive, or failed altogether, as the industry ramps up. The good news is that those who are poised to ride out a rippling market are likely to find, around the bend, a world that embraces solar as a viable part of its energy future. What is needed is strong, consistent and widespread public and government support. As some countries pull back on incentives and watch their solar market plummet, others, such as Japan, announce plans for a huge solar push. Unfortunately, it took last year’s nuclear disaster for Japan to increase its use of solar energy. But the good news is that the Japanese government is said to be considering making it compulsory for all new buildings and homes to be built with solar panels by 2030. Mandates like this will continue to move solar out of the realm of “alternate energy” and into a commonly used form of reliable energy. Kirk Thompson, Senior R&D Lead for Dow Solar, said that significant progress has already been made and “all signs are pointing toward solar being mainstream.”
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today. Follow me on Twitter @solarnovusanne.