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Solar is certainly the most attractive of alternative energy technology. It's clean, long lasting, has no moving parts, and it's starting to come down in cost. If only we could figure out a way to store power for a cloudy day.

I've noticed a lot of advances in solar power in the last couple of months and I thought you might be interested. There are solar panels for the roofs of cars, solar trains (sort of), and lots more below the fold.

How cheap will solar cells get? Disposable printed paper solar cells may soon be a available. From :

Scientists at the University of Cape Town are exploiting the nano-scale properties of silicon to develop a super-thin disposable solar panel poster which they hope could offer rural dwellers a cheap, alternative source of power. Many people living in remote areas are not linked to the national electricity grid, and use batteries or run their own generators to supply their power needs. The scientists have developed technology for printing specialised inks containing tiny nanoparticles of silicon and other semiconductors onto paper. The solar panels are printed in much the same way as conventional colour images, using three or four separate print runs with black, blue, yellow and magenta ink. They print the metal contacts, then the semiconductor structure, then more contacts. The voltage and power output of the solar cell is determined by the size of the poster. An A2-sized poster will deliver up to 100W of power, enough to charge a cellphone, power a radio or provide five hours of lighting, said Prof David Britton, a physicist specialising in nanotechnology. Many families cannot afford R1000 for a solar panel designed to last 30 years, but they can afford R10 every three to six months for a 'disposable' panel, he said.

Shops could stock rolls of solar panel posters, and cut it to meet a customer's needs. The poster could be mounted behind a window or attached to a cabinet. Britton's team has built a successful prototype and is seeking to commercialise the project.

Solar curtains developed by Sweden's InteractiveIinstitute  are another innovative use of solar technology. They capture light during the day and glow at night. From Inhabitat:

Though guilt is a common and effective remedy for changing wasteful behavior, it's certainly nobody's favorite. In order for sustainable ideas to catch on, they need to be pleasurable and desireable. Not many products consist of equal parts ecological responsibility and innovative design, but Re:Form has struck the balance. Their Energy Curtain is a window shade woven with solar-collecting and light-emitting materials that store sunlight during the day and emit it at night. By choosing how much sunlight to collect and how much to use, the curtain "acts to stimulate reflection on the trade-offs of a local, sustainable system and [help the user] evolve a relationship with their own energy behaviors over time."

A solar train? Well yes and no. This is from Green Car Congress:

ANSA. Italy has unveiled Europe's first solar-power-assisted train. The solar panels on the train's roof do not drive it but provide energy for its air conditioning, illumination and safety systems.

The PVTRAIN project, partly funded by the EU, has been under development since 2003, and involves 10 prototype units: 5 carriages, 3 cargo wagons and 2 locomotives. -snip-

The panels on a rail car can deliver approximately 1.36 kW of peak power. In the development and testing from July 2003 to May 2005, the solar panel system generated a total of 1,017.41 kWh.

Solatec LLC has introduced flexible, rooftop-mounted solar panels for hybrid vehicles, starting with a kit for the 2004-2006 Toyota Prius. The downside is the cost, $2,195 They've also patented an unmanned solar powered spy plane. From Yahoo Finance:

A prototype (pictured) has been operating in the Northeast for several months under mixed driving conditions. With Solatec panels installed on the roof, the prototype SolaPrius® averages 55 MPG city and 62 MPG highway - an overall 10 percent improvement over the pre-installation numbers. All-season testing is in progress.

Solatec's photovoltaic kit (patents applied for) adds two flexible, conformal panels that charge the hybrid automobile's auxiliary battery through a proprietary charger/current-limiter system concealed behind interior trim panels. The self-adhesive, rooftop-mounted panels are only 0.6mm thick and cause no change in aerodynamic drag.


The cost of super-pure silicon crystals is one of the major factors in the price of solar cells. An article in September Nature Materials outlined a way to use far less expensive "dirty silicon" for solar cells. This would be a major breakthrough in affordable solar technology. Here is a summary from Science News Online:

Silicon is the second most abundant element in Earth's crust, but nature's primary sources of silicon--sand and quartz--are tainted with metals. Converting silicon from these sources into superpure crystals is an expensive and time-consuming process.

While there had been enough pure stock for the electronics industry, the needs of the growing photovoltaic industry--which uses silicon for more than 90 percent of its solar cells--caused overall demand to exceed supply in 2004, notes Eicke R. Weber, a materials scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) National Laboratory. This triggered a drastic price increase in pure silicon, dealing a blow to the solar cell makers.

Silicon stock that is less pure and therefore less expensive is available, says Weber. But the increased amounts of iron, copper, and other metal contaminants in these stocks reduce solar cell efficiency. Clusters of these metal atoms attract the solar cell's charge-carrying electrons, reducing the amount of current that the cell can generate.

The researchers found that silicon hosting larger but fewer numbers of clusters performed better than did samples with smaller but many more clusters. They tested this result by heating samples and then cooling them at different rates, which enabled the researchers to control the distribution of the metal. Weber's team found that silicon with micrometer-size clusters, spaced hundreds of micrometers apart, was four times as efficient as silicon with more-finely-distributed, nanosize clusters.

"Without changing the total metal content--only changing the way it is distributed--we get a drastic change in the electrical property," says Weber. "If it is possible to concentrate the metals in a few big clusters, in principle, one can make good solar cells out of dirty starting material."

Pyron Solar has developed a solar array that they say can generate power at competitive costs. The unit is 37.3% efficient.  From their web site:

PYRON SOLAR INC., an R&D company in La Jolla, California, developed in cooperation with Boeing-Spectrolab a novel system to convert sunlight into electricity.

This revolutionary design is a low-profile floating system with short-focal-length lenses concentrating direct sunlight by 400X onto photovoltaic cells. These advanced multi-junction cells produce 800 times more electricity than conventional non-concentrating cells the same size.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed 37.3% efficiency. -snip-

The first PYRON-SOLAR solar power plant with BOEING-SPECTROLAB photovoltaic cells has been built in El Cajon CA, near San Diego. The platform, 23 feet in diameter and just 12 inches high, generates 6.6 kW peak. The picture shows that except for the cutout areas along the perimeter, the whole surface of the platform collects sunlight. In full-sized power plants, such cutout areas amount to less than 2% of the circle.

·    BOEING-Spectrolab holds the world record in efficiency of solar cells.

·    PYRON-SOLAR, INC. holds the world record in lens-surface per unit ground-surface.

·    The world record in the lowest solar-electricity production costs can be achieved by combining these innovations.

Yield: At 2,850 kWh/m2yr direct-sunlight as in sunny deserts, the annual electricity yield will be 450 kWh/m2year or 450 GWh per km2year.

Performance-comparison: Per unit of total land area Pyron power plants produce:

·    14.5 times more electricity than the world's largest plant SOLAR II in Dagget, CA.

·    8.6 times more electricity than the huge LUZ power plants in California.

·    189 times more electricity than the Manzanares (Spain) Solar Chimney power plant.

System Price: The extremely high efficiency and the low material requirements make the new system competitive with conventional power plants. For large Pyron power plants a calculation shows that the price for the high-tech parts including the cell and the material for the low-tech parts will be $1.87 per watt. Depending on where the units are constructed, the labor costs will vary. With manufacture in the U.S. the total cost is estimated to be around $3 per watt.

These are some startling developments that show both how solar energy may soon be affordable and how it can be used in new and innovative ways.

Originally posted to Chris Kulczycki on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:16 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4.00)
    Please tell us about any new solar developments you've read about.

    Cross posted on European Tribune.


    Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
    You can kill one, but another is born.
    The words are written down, the deed, the date.

    Czeslaw Milosz

    by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:18:06 AM PST

    •  Almost forgot, a solar coffee roaster. (4.00)

      I live on coffee so this has deep personal meaning for me. In fact one of my ancestor, a Polish spy, started the very first coffee shop in central Europe in 1500 and something. But that's another diary.

      The solar roaster uses parabolic mirror array focused on a roasting drum. It heats to 600° F. The drum's motors are also solar powered. It can roast 7 pounds of coffee per hour.


      Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
      You can kill one, but another is born.
      The words are written down, the deed, the date.

      Czeslaw Milosz

      by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:53:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is important (4.00)
        As a non-coffee drinker who was just recently tasked with buying a gift of a coffee/espresso machine for my wife, I am astonished at the lengths you people will go to for a dad-blamed cup o'joe! Good GOD, people, aren't there other things to think about?? The variety, technology and scale of your coffee creation techniques are truly protean in both the technology and the sheer single-mindedness of the effort.

        Anyway, with the white-hot laser attention of the coffee drinking public focused on this technology, I have little doubt that we'll be able to roast the entire country of JuanValdez with a solar cell having the surface area equivalent to one burro's rump. I'm sure it'll happen. Any day now. And we'll be able to buy it for $50 at any Starbucks by next Christmas, with a little nutmeg sprinkled on top.

        -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -t -6.75 -3.79

        by tergenev on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 10:38:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The coffee fixation (none)
          is self-propelling by virtue of caffeine intoxication.

          The dark at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming age.

          by peeder on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 12:25:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Careful there... (none)
          you're messing with a sacrament, friend.

          "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

          by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:33:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ah yes (none)
            The only thing worse than starting a religious argument here in the progressive blogospehre is to bring back the cold, miserable Coffee wars of aught-4.

            So . . . how 'bout them solar panels! Pretty cool, huh?

            -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -t -6.75 -3.79

            by tergenev on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:53:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Very. (none)
              I love the crystalline blue of mine against the terracotta red of the roof tiles.  My wife... well, I think her objection is that she can see the space between them and the roof and the little legs holding them up....

              It's a Bauhaus sort of issue.

              "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

              by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:39:22 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Solar thermal (none)
        It's interesting that there's still solar-thermal applications being developed not just photo-voltaic.  I guess the sheer surface area requirement is not a deterrent for novelty items like this giant coffee roaster but having vast arrays of mirrors is not practical for most things.   They need to incorporate some magnifying glasses or something!
      •  coffee (none)
        I save my coffee grounds and espresso pucks, dry them out and mix them with wax and parraffin creating a coffee grounds version of the sawdust log. I usually make briquettes instead of logs though. And if you don't have enough coffee grounds, Starbucks does recycle their grounds and gives them away. Just ask at the counter. And one of the things that is really cool to do with recycled coffee logs is to use them to make a fire to heat a whirlypop, cast iron skillet or wok to roast your own green coffee beans. Maybe not as sexy as solar panel roasted coffee, but more practical in the Pacific Northwest. :)
        •  Espresso grounds are also prefect for... (none)
          soil! I used to work at a coffee house where we'd save all of our grounds and give them to a couple people who would use them for their gardens. They said the grounds did wonders for their garden!
        •  our local starbucks has a basket for grounds (none)
          They bag them up and you can take them.  During the summer, it's by the door, now they've moved it to the back.  I've been thinking it would mix well with the dog poop I'm trying to compost.
    •  Not solar, but new and notable (4.00)
      are quantum dots. Some students just found a way to generate white light from them.

      Now I laugh and make a fortune off the same ones that I torture and a world says, "Kiss me, son of god." ~ They Might Be Giants

      by misscee on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 10:22:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Cool! (none)
        These kinds of discoveries are what give me hope for the future...not just light bulbs, but new discoveries in many areas are needed for a cleaner environment in the future.

        "The election's over. We won. It's all over but the counting, and we'll take care of the counting." Rep. Peter King (R-NY) at WH function, 2003

        by kathika on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 03:03:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks.... (4.00)
    For the update.  Very interesting and encouraging.

    -1.88, -6.62 I'm only a lib'rul in Oklahoma.

    by Prof Dave on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:30:27 AM PST

  •  37.7% efficient (none)
    What does that mean?  
    •  It means that (4.00)
      37.7% of the energy that was contained in the sunlight that was incident on the cell is converted into electricity.  This is really quite staggering.  Most commercially available solar cells only convert about 8 - 12% of the incident light to electricity.  There is roughly 1000 watts of energy in every square meter of sunlight at noon in a sunny location.  So, these cells could generate 377 watts from that meter of sunlight whereas common cells could only generate something like 80 to 120 watts.
      •  That's an impressive number (none)
        I wonder what it is specifically about that unit which causes it to increase that efficiency so greatly.
        •  It's just a lens, probably plastic, (none)
          that concentrates the sunlight.

          Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
          You can kill one, but another is born.
          The words are written down, the deed, the date.

          Czeslaw Milosz

          by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 05:35:53 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  THat's what I thought (none)
            Why is this technology new?  It seems like someone would have developed this sooner.
            •  it has been (none)
              Why is this technology new?  It seems like someone would have developed this sooner.

              In your home video cameras - and professional cameras too, of course.  On-chip microlens arrays are quite common.  They make the camera much more light-sensitive without increasing "grain" (actually  noise) from increasing gain in the image electronics.

              Most cameras have a 0db "normal" mode, while some pro cameras have a -3db, or in a few cases even a -6db mode.  It's for use in high light situations, and decreases noise while improving color rendition.

              Think of it as tiny objective lenses over every pixel on the chip.

              If you vote Republican, you vote for corruption.

              by MN camera on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 08:28:44 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  At a guess (none)
              I'd say thier 'innovation' would be higher magnification '400x' and placement/sizing of the solar cells under the lenses so they are only collecting the magnified light.  That would be the mention of the cut-out area's around the edge's that they said would only be 2% of a full sized plant.

              That's all just pure conjecture of course.  What I'm wondering is if they are going to try or can can the rights to try the new Indium/irridium solar cells with thier lens system.  That might be enough to push them from 32% up into the 50-60% range.

              Semiconductor lights up solar cells

              •  new cells (none)
                "new Indium/irridium solar cells?"

                I've never heard of these - what are they and how do they compare to traditional silicon solar cells?  I gather from your post that they have higher efficiency - are they more expensive as well? I'd assume that iridium is much less common than silicon, so maybe there's a manufacturing issue...

                Can you elaborate, please?


                O it is excellent to have a giant's strength: but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. --Measure for Measure, II.2

                by RogueStage on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 10:19:21 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  The solar cells in question (none)
                  are multi-junction III-V single crystal devices.  They are composed of three separate "cells" grown as a single crystal one on top of the next.  They take advantage of a wonderful property of direct bandgap semiconductors where in they are transparent to photons that don't have enough energy to be useful for that particular cell.  Therefore you engineer the device so that the cell that responds to the high energy photons is on top, the cell and all the lower energy photos pass right through it to be be converted by the cells underneath, the same thing then happens again to the middle cell.  You therefore split the spectrum up into three components, each of the cells responding to a portion of the spectrum that it is "tuned" to respond to.

                  This spectral utilization effect of the multi-junction approach is independent of concentration.  Concentration is attractive for two reasons.  The first is that these ultra high efficient cells are expensive on a per unit area basis, so using lenses or mirrors to focus the light means you can use less of them for a given amount of energy generation.  But another advantage is that the efficiency of a PV device actually goes up when the light is concentrated.  This has to do with basic device physics.  Efficiency is simply the ratio of the power out divided by the power in.  The power out is equal to the current times the voltage of the device.  Now for most cells, the current simply scales like the concentration ration of the system.  Put 100 suns on the cell and the current goes up by a factor of 100.  Now if that was all that happened the efficiency wouldn't change.  But that isn't all that happens.  This is because there is a log dependence of the voltage on the current, so the voltage also goes up, although slowly.  You get about 70 mV for each decade of concentration for each junction in the device.  So, the efficiency goes up with concentration.  All you have to do is engineer out the series resistance and work on thermal management!

                  The National Renewable Energy Lab holds the patent for these cells.  Spectro Lab pays a small fee to produce them that goes to off-setting the tax dollars that were spent to develop them.  The next generation of devices should approach 40 - 50% efficiency.

                •  Actually (none)
                  The link to the article is at the bottom of my post.  And the Indium/Irridium cells are different than the normal layered cells.  You can also layer the newer type, and I expect they would for the most efficiency.  The big thing about the new mixture is that it would allow higher efficiency per layer and fewer layers total.

                  I'm waiting to hear more about them in the future.  Hopefully it won't take long to be made into a consumer package.  That's when we'll actually get to see how much higher efficiency costs.  I'm figuring if they can deliver 50-60% we'll start seeing hybrids with solar charging built into them.  What I'd really love to see is a solar cell with enough power to crack h2o on demand for a car, and pull 10-15kw off an average house roof.  With that I could happily live 'off the grid'.

        •  more details (4.00)

          First, it is a multilayer cell designed to convert a wider spectrum of light. It is a concentrating cell so it works at higher intensity levels so threshold effects would be reduced. And the normal problem with concentrators is the heat. The solve the heat issue by attaching what looks like a large aluminum heat sink to the back of the cell and immersing the heat sink in a pool of water.

          The pool of water is going to have issues with algae, bacteria, mosquitos, evaporation, freezing, etc. If the whole thing was covered over with a greenhouse (losing some of the sunlight, unfortunately), one might be able to tap some of the waste heat. I wonder if translating a flat sheet array of frenel lenses over an array of fixed cells mounted on water/coolent pipes might be better, though you might lose some energy to the pump (though you could utilize waste heat).

          •  It has been well over a decade since (4.00)
            I saw what appeared to be a similar system. They pumped coolant to the back side of the cells to cool them, then sent the coolant elswhere to use for heating.

            -6.88/-5.64 Murtha on Bush: "Undermining his credibility? What has he said that would give him credibility?"

            by John West on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:21:19 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think thats right (none)
        37% is the amount of production per cell surface area.  This is compared to if it was in the sun without a concentrator (lense).  The number they get is misleading, its really only 9% times the 4x magnification.  Its not really a direct 39% of the sun's energy on that entire units surface area.  If that were the case, everyone would be clammoring for one of those.  Its an marketing misdirection.

        Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

        by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 02:39:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry, that is incorrect (none)
          Here is how it works.

          Let us say that we are talking about a 1000X lens system just to make the calculation easy.

          There is roughly 1000 watts per square meter of sunlight incident on a meter of lens material.  If we are in the desert, most of that 1000 watts is direct.

          If the lens is 1000 cm^2

          There will be 100 watts of power in the sunlight incident on the lens.

          The little concentrator cell that sits underneath the lens is 1 cm^2.

          If it is 37.7% efficient, it will be putting out 37.7 watts.

          That's how it works.  There are very stringent reporting requirements.  You can't fudge this stuff.  That's why we have independent testing centers within the labs.

          •  I just don't believe that. (none)
            Why would a concentrator make the whole area used be more efficient?  I don't think you're right.

            Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

            by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:24:10 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Honestly (none)
              I wouldn't lie to you.  I helped develop the thing.  

              The cells themselves are ultra-efficient.  They were originally developed for space power applications.  The problem is that they are very expensive on a per area basis.  Therefore if we want to make them useful for terrestrial applications we need to find ways to lower the system costs.  One way to do that is to use very small cells, but a relatively cheap lens and focus a large amount of light down onto this small cell.  If you can get a large amount of power out of a small but expensive cell, the resulting electricity can still be relatively cheap.

              The cells are composed of III-V compounds.  GaInP/GaAs grown on a Ge substrate with an active junction.  Spectrolab's real business is in Space Power systems.  They would like to develop a terrestrial market for these cells.  But as I said, they are too expensive to use at one sun, hence the imperative to concentrate.

              An additional advantage is that the efficiency actually goes up marginally with concentration due to the logarithmic dependence of the voltage on the photocurrent, but that is a second order effect.

              •  That's what I was thinking (none)
                By using the lenses to concentrate the light, the actual solar cell is smaller (thus cheaper) and by having the light concentrated, that smaller cell is more efficient.
              •  I still don't get it (none)
                The cell itself is 37% efficient?  That is what I'm getting at.  Concentrating the light on it doesn't really improve its efficiency.  Thats irrelevant.  Its just a cheaper way of using the cell, which is cool.  But the cell actually being that efficient is what I doubt.

                Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

                by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 11:48:51 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Some related links. (4.00)
    This site lists manufacturers and their websites.
    some interesting new methods on a lot of these.

    If you don't know who Stanford Ovshinsky is, you should.  He's todays Einstien imho and was awarded
    "Hero of the planet" by Time magazine.

    This is ECD "energy conversion devices"
    website.  It's a bit laborynthian, but there's
    a lot of information there.

  •  37% efficient. (4.00)
    Based on a given area of full sun, solar panels
    can't convert all of the energy.  

    The thin film type are cheaper to produce but
    only have an effeciency of about 8% to about 11%.

    The most expensive type using a wafer of silicon
    are usually touted to be about 28% efficient.

    Other types involve shaving silicon blocks, and some other processess all of which reduce efficiency, but allow cheaper panels so you can
    cover more area.  

    If you look into some of the companies on my
    first link you'll get some explanation.  

    Hope that helps.  

  •  800? Color me skeptical (none)
    These advanced multi-junction cells produce 800 times more electricity than conventional non-concentrating cells the same size.

    I don't see how that is mathematically possible.  Current solar cells are 10-15% efficient and 800 times that would be 8000-12000% efficient.

    Or maybe they are keeping the cell the same size but increasing the collection area.  That's great, but kind of disingenuous.  Sure, they reduce the cost of the cell but you still have to have a huge area to put it in, support costs, etc, etc.

    A peace vigil has as much effect on foreign policy as a debug vigil would on broken software.

    by RequestedUsername on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 05:06:48 AM PST

    •  Smaller cell is exactly the point (4.00)
      The cost of a square foot of lens material, space, and supporting structure is much less than the cost of a square foot of solar cells, so by concentrating the light from a large area on a small cell, you get an increase in electricity generated per dollar.  (Cost efficiency)

      Now, it also happens that this company's cells also have improved energy efficiency (i.e. electricity generated per area), probably with an assist from the fact that the light intensity is greater.

      So their 800:1 statement makes sense, if they are comparing a non-concentrating cell of size X with a large apparatus that has a cell of size X at its heart.  (They start with a 4:1 advantage in energy efficiency, and boost it 20 times by concentrating the sunlight.)  I will agree that it's misleading in the way it's phrased.

      This isn't Republicans vs. Democrats, it's Republicans vs. Democracy.

      by randompost on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:00:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Where is the energy lost? (none)
        Why is it so hard to get good percentage of electricity out of the suns energy.  If we could get to 70% or so, two to three square yards (meters) per house is all the area that would be needed, right?
        Why is it so elusive.  Been wondering this.

        Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

        by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 03:09:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The sun (4.00)
          Sorry, I don't work in solar, but I had a class on semiconductors a few years ago, so someone please correct/clarify if I don't quite get it.  This may not be what you asked exactly but some of the non-engineers and non-chemists may be wondering how solar works beyond "you shine something bright on this panel thingy and there's electricity."  If you know or don't care or are confused when I start talking about photons feel free to skip. Just don't troll rate because I'm talking about science and only Republicans hate science.

          The sun emits photons (packets of energy) at every wavelength.  The packets with wavelengths of 400-700 nm (wavelength is the inverse of frequency) are the ones our eyes can absorb and turn into pictures, but the sun sends out photons outside that range too.  Each photon has a distinct wavelength/frequency, but there are a trillion trillion of them (actually way more than that), but they are still distinct.  This wavelength determines exactly how much energy the photon contains and vice versa.  A photon of a certain wavelength always has the same energy (Joules).  Radio waves are just photons in a completely different range than visible light.

          So you have photons, but you also need them to hit something, namely the "panel-thingy".  The actual solar cell, as most people know, is usually silicon.   Silicon is an atom.  If you've had high school or college chemistry, you know atoms have electrons "orbiting" around the core/nucleus.  Those electrons are only happy at certain energy levels and the atom is most happy when the lower energy levels are as full as possible.  That is why atoms "bond" to each other, to share electrons and be happy and more stable.  (We can learn a lot from atoms.) Electrons won't jump to a higher energy level unless the exact right amount of energy hits the bond.  Remember the photons, which have an exact energy.  When one with the right energy hits the bond just right, that electron jumps up and the photon "disappears".   When the electron drops back down, energy is released again.  If there are electrical conductors connected to the chunk of silicon, that released energy has to go somewhere and it goes through the other atoms (because silicon is a semi*conductor*) toward the conductor and you have electricity.

          Now to the part about efficiency.  If the energy of that photon is just a little bit off, the photon keeps right on moving until it finds something to absorb it or it goes through the material.  If the silicon is 100% pure, silicon can only bind to silicon and you only have a few type of bonds, depending on how the cell was made, thus only a few types of photons will absorb and make electricity, resulting in the ~8% efficiency.  The rest will be reflected or go through.  Only the ones that get absorbed make electricity.  In reality, it is statistically impossible to make something without at least a few impurities.  That way you have different bonds, but most of them actually interfere with the process of making electricity which is why you want pure silicon.  The other materials, indium and iridium are other semiconductors, but since they have different numbers of electrons than silicon, they will bond differently and thus absorb photons with higher or lower energy.  As was explained above, if you have several layers of different material the ones that pass through the first layer may not make it through the second or third and all can be used to make electricity.  Less of the energy is "wasted" but there are still a high percentage of photons that don't get absorbed.  Different, more exotic materials would have to be made to capture more of that "available" energy.

          (-7.25, -5.85) "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." - Thomas Jefferson

          by Slartibartfast on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:12:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Wow (none)
            Thats great that you put so much into an answer.  Thanks for this!

            Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

            by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:14:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  So solar can never be very efficient (none)
            Because silicon can only capture certain wavelengths of sunlight for energy.  The rest just goes somewhere else?  
            So for a square meter of surface area, solar is never really ever going to exeed 20% or so?  

            Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

            by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:19:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Silicon (none)
              tops out at about 28% efficiency right now.  But if you are into high performance, silicon is not the only game in town!
            •  The theoretical maximum (none)
              The actual(theoretical) maximum amount of energy for a solar cell using silicon is about 70%.  Some of the energy is lost in getting the electrons to move in the first place.  Now given that would be a perfect collector with the perfect wavelengths of light (ie. not gonna exist in the real world), the best we're ever likely to see in a consumer product is somewhere in the 60's.  

              I always wondered why solar power always concentrates on the visible spectrum though.  The sun emits radiation across most of the electromagnetic specturm.  I know the ionosphere filters out a LOT of that, but you'd think there would be other maybe easier to use power ranges. If anything, the absorbed heat could be used to power a stirling or a thermocouple.

  •  Just a thought (4.00)
    but if they're putting the cells on top of the Prius, why not one that swings down from the roof inside to cover the front windshield?  If you have to park the car in the sun in the summer (at least around here in DC) the car will be toasty when you get in, so this would also shield the interior?  Maybe slide down to cover the back window, side panels could roll up from the door frame - cooler car inside while charging car outside?  use less A/C and conversely if given the option you could leave some windows uncovered in the winter to warm the car a bit?

    Just a thought.  Perhaps crazy, but, thought I'd throw it out there.

    •  Don't seem so crazy to me (4.00)
      I'm sure if you look at statistics, the car is parked more than it's driving.  
      •  And if they were made of waterproof paper (none)
        they would be very cheap and you might even cover the whole hood with them.

        Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
        You can kill one, but another is born.
        The words are written down, the deed, the date.

        Czeslaw Milosz

        by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 05:22:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  That's sort of what I do on the boat. (4.00)
      I live on the sailboat a decent part of the year here in Chicago.  I have a couple permanent solar panels on the canopy over the cockpit (you can barely see the edge of one here:

      Image Hosted by

      Then, if the boat will be on the mooring and not sailing for a few days (like a car being parked), I put up a couple panels on the railing of the back bench of the boat (they're not up in this pic, since we're moving):

      Image Hosted by

      They're really convenient, and most importantly, they keep the fridge running 24/7, thus assuring cold beer at all times.

      "He not busy being born is busy dying" - It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

      by chicagochamp on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 08:41:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Solar sail (4.00)
        Currently I an on a Barco de Vela in the sea of California, and when at anchor I use 3 panels that total 180 watts and keeps the 400 amp hr. batts topped. This leaves me quite independent of outside power, and sunlight is always available...
        •  Nice... (none)
          I'm jealous, as we just got a foot of snow last night and the boat is on stands for the winter...

          Are you using lead acid or gel or AGM batteries?
          I was think of switching to AGM next year.  Currently I use Trojan golf cart lead acid 6v, but people seem to love the agm batteries.

          Happy sailing, wish I was in your shoes right now.

          "He not busy being born is busy dying" - It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

          by chicagochamp on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:06:09 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  solar mx. (none)
            Hope this gets back to you, just picked up the rethread.
            I have two 6 volt Trojans 395 amp hrs. built for remote cabin
            My cruising amigos from Canada have just installed AGM's and because of space restictions have laid them problema
            Also have a sonic desulfinator that will keep the batts at full charge, via sonic impulse.
            Other than that I love Mexico, not just for the weather but because of the people...
            Great place to chill for the winter. Spectre7
      •  So when is the... (none)
        Daily Kos party boat setting sail next summer?!!?  I'll bring beer!
    •  not so good (none)

      Windsheild solar panels will increase heat gain (good in winter but bad in summer), won't be facing the right direction unless you park facing the sun, and can't be left in place while driving so most of the energy will go to waste (no energy while driving and energy while parked is thrown away once batteries are topped off).

    •  Prius solar totally a 'gadget' (none)
      for the most 'fanatic' or techno-geeks or a very limited part of community.

      How much of time, in an urban office environment for example, will a car be parked in a covered space?

      Much more 'energy' wise / investment wise to put the PV panels in an optimum physical space where it is always able to produce power if there is sun.  My belief is that -- in terms of mass focus -- we should be maximizing the power output (and pollution reduction) potential for solar.  Thus, there are 'mobile' solar situations that make great sense:  sailboats, remote locations (hikers; scientific missions; medical missions away from grid), the type of 'mobile' solar re the $2300 investment in a Prius solar seems -- at best -- a cool gadget but doesn't really make environmental, energy policy, or fiscal sense.

      9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:52:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Prius solar would be nice in the desert (none)
        Suppose you live in the desert, then this might make lots of sense- park your car for the 8 hours you're working and store the energy.  If the Prius controls were modified you could easily run on electric for a while before parking to allow capacity for the daily charge.

        Then think of the ultimate survival scenario- your car runs out of gas in Death Valley- but with a little patience and plenty of sunshine- you could drive out!

        •  Your scenario was in mind (none)
          when I wrote "very limited community" ... I can write the viable scenario but ...

          How about a 'cheaper' system solution for someone like this?

          •  PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid) Prius
          •  Put in solar-panel roof for a new shaded parking spot(with solar PV feeding grid when noone is pluged-in) where the PHEV parks during the day.
          •  Prius is cooler at end of the day, requiring lower energy use for air conditioning, and solar PV contribution to overall energy system is higher

          In any event, there is now a viable option to meet the real .001% of potential buyers who really potential face the type of challenge that your outline.

          After all, how many people run out of gas in Death Valley?

          9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

          by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:32:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  good points, but solar Prius is still nice (none)
            You make several good points, but if we can get the cost of conformable solar panels down I'd be willing to try them on my Prius.  Sometimes you need the early adopters to do things that don't make economic sense to advance the technology.

            I don't see the solar cells on the car as an "either or" proposition, we may look back in ten years and wonder why cars didn't always have solar panel covered roofs.

            I know that after driving my Prius for two years all the "regular" cars look pretty wasteful belching out exhaust at the stoplights while my Prius is sitting silently, waiting for input from the driver before instantly moving forward.

            •  Been waiting for hybrid Mini-van ... (none)
              but will probably go shopping for a Prius soon because I hate being one of those smoke belchers. (As well, by personality, I am sure that I will love tracking mileage ...)

              Agree that it should not be an 'either'/'or'.  But if you have $1 to invest in renewable energy / energy efficiency, the Prius add on solar panels is not where you should put it. Now, as per comments above, this is right for 'early adapter' (or, my negative term, 'gadget junkies') and for very specific (and pretty small) parts of market space.

              But, in terms of reducing global warming, if the "nation" were to choose between $1 billion being put into car solar panels or $1 billion spent on wind power, solar hot water heating, solar PV for roof tops, green roofs, more efficient furnaces / water heaters / etc, and so on ... I would hope that the $1 billion would not go onto auto roofs ...  We have a long way to go before the Prius roof PV is the best investment in the energy area.

              9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

              by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 02:53:37 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  you'll love the Prius (none)
                Google "110 mpg Prius" to admire the achievement by the current "mileage masters" with the Prius.  There is room for huge mileage improvements by just modifying your driving style, especially with the Prius ability to shut down the engine and coast.  

                My best round trip so far is 69.8 mpg over a 20 mile round trip course.  One way trips are of course not applicable, I often get way above 60 mpg when traveling from my home at 800 ft elevation to the nearby coast.

                Toyota plans to offer the hybrid drive in most of their vehicles by 2010 or so, it will be an option that you can choose like the different engines now available in some models like the V6 vs 4 cylinder Camry.

      •  6 to 24 miles a day from the sun: (4.00)
        There are several threads on the topic of solar energy on and Some people say the sun could reliably provide only six miles per day on average; others say it might provide as many as 24 miles per day. The wide disparity is based on such things as solar cell area and efficiency, and projected hours of sunlight.

        Six miles a day doesn't sound like much, but that's 1,800 miles a year based on driving 250 days - a dent in anybody's gas usage. Somebody getting 17 or more solar miles per day would get 5,000-plus annual solar miles. For that driver, payback would be seven years assuming $2,100 for the solar capability and an average price of $3/gallon for gasoline. Not to mention the pollution avoided.

        Unfortunately, $2,100 is far-fetched right now, because in addition to the solar panels, you'd need a considerably larger battery to store the electricity. (MSRP of a replacement battery is currently $2,985.13). The Solatec system doesn't address this issue - it doesn't even charge the main battery. Apparently it only charges the auxiliary battery, which is the weenie little battery used to boot up the computer and run the stereo, etc. Since these things just don't consume much power, I'd be surprised if the Solatec panels improve mpg by even 5 percent. That puts it firmly in bbb's "gadget" cagetory.

        A 10-to-20 percent solar boost might be an appealing option even at $3,000. But it looks as though we're still a few years away from that.

        •  auxiliary battery charging (4.00)
          I'll be surprised if they sell many of these if it only charges the onboard 12Volt battery, that is not used for much as you say.  Also, Prius owners tend to be mostly fairly informed consumers, so they'll be sure to investigate the real utility of gadgets like this.

          A real system that would charge the main Prius battery would be useful if it provided a reasonable charge, but you would have to make other mods to the prius control SW so you could run on electric for a while to allow charging capacity when leaving your car in the sun.

          Seems to me the other option that is being tested, the "plug-hybrid" add on for the Prius is more promising.  That battery could be charged from a number of sources, as bbb suggests.

          Nice tax credit of about $3000 will be available to 60,000 + Prius buyers next January.  If anyone is scheduled to take delivery now they should have the dealer hold the car- the current tax deduction is not worth nearly as much in your pocket.

      •  Looking at the wrong problem... (none)
        How much of time, in an urban office environment for example, will a car be parked in a covered space?

        For that matter, why are we even concerned about automobiles at all? Even if someone managed to come up with some sort of solar-powered car that could run thousands of miles on a single charge, we still deal with the other harmful effects of Automobile Culture (i.e. traffic jams, sprawl, "big-box" consumerism, microclimate effects due to large expanses of asphalt and concrete, etc.).

        Rather than trying to build a better mousetrap, we should focus on other ways of dealing with the "mouse problem" (i.e. mass-transit, New Urbanism city planning, expanded use of telecommuting and e-commerce, and the like).

  •  disposable? (none)
    How can that be good?

    unbossed investigative blogging

    by shirah on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 05:47:56 AM PST

  •  I hope this is the dumbest question you've heard (none)
    But does the energy curtain emit 'heat' during the night, or just 'light'?  In other words, is it simply decorative?
  •  Billion-dollar idea (4.00)
    Just have a solar-powered car battery, for the purpose that car batteries are for: starting the engine and keepin' the lights on at night...or on overcast days.

    Oh, you might have to replace that bad boy every so often, but not nearly so often.

    And last time I had to get a battery replaced, it was a bigger chunk of change that I expected.

    I figure that's, oh, $30-40 a year per automobile minimum in savings, less the premium for the solar conversion.

    On, what? 250(?) million automobiles in the United States, that's some % of $10 billion a year in gross sales could belong to you.

    10bp on the deal is my seed concept fee. :)

    Americans All, True and Blue: The Redshirts Violent Come For You.

    by cskendrick on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 08:12:08 AM PST

  •  Prius with racing stripes (none)
    I love how the solar sheets look like racing stripes on that Prius!  Very sharp!

    I'm a function over form kind of guy, and silly racing stripes on slow cars pisses me off; but they are there for a geniue purpose on this Prius!

  •  Very depressed (4.00)
    reading the other diary about melting glaciers and climate changes.    Granted, it's nice to receive these "slaps" to the face to keep me aware and take action where I can.

    Oh but Chris, so appreciate these diaries of yours.  I always pass them on to others via email.  And this one in particular gives me hope.  Just the other day, my parents told me that while they'd love to go solar, it just ain't affordable for them.  Oh, how I hope that soon it would be affordable.  Again, this diary of yours gives me hope!

    Now, I'm off to finish my final projects and then research on some energy efficient freezers (need a new one for our home).

    "Im not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship." - Louisa May Alcott

    by smugbug on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 08:51:00 AM PST

    •  And what about the "Times Says Conservative (4.00)
      blogs more Effective"  post?

      Do wingers have wonderful/useful diaries like this?

      I don't think so.

      "Go in peace, errant sisters." -Horace Greeley, April, 1861

      by faithnomore on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:13:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yeah (none)
      What can we do about global warming, global climate change.  I mean.  Lets pretend for a moment that everyone worked together for the best solution, the fantasy one you have in your mind even.  What would that be?

      Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

      by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 02:42:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  National Solar Thermal Test Facility (4.00)
    Thanks, Chris.  Very interesting.  Here's some more experimental stuff:

    The Sun Ball is a fresnel-lens concentrator of solar energy via the Aussies:

    I love the idea of solar as an adjunct energy resource.  Here are the drawbacks for me:

    1.  Until someone figures out a way to make solar technology affordable to the middle class, and come up with better storage, it will remain largely in the hands of corporations who want to look Green and in the hands of rich people.  But still, that's better than nothing.

    2. Footprint.  Solar is a weak and diffuse resource, and it takes many square miles of solar panels to equal a single 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant. As an environmentalist, I am always looking out for habitat destruction, and therefore opposed to paving the desert with solar arrays.  These new devices that concentrate sunlight seem like a good way around that, however.  And if we can cheaply carpet millions of rooftops with solar--hey, I'm in!

    3. Disposal.  Making conventional solar panels involves toxic gases and toxic waste, and retired panels have to be disposed of in a toxic waste stream.  If not, their garbage includes toxic heavy metals.  Do these innovations you list, like film, pose any environmental risk or will they one day become hazardous waste? Nanofibers, for instance, are as dangerous to the lungs as asbestos fibers are.  

    We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. -Albert Einstein

    by Plan9 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:17:43 AM PST

    •  decentralized solar/wind generation (4.00)
      allows for a completely different approach to electical generation.  while wind and solar CAN be used for utility-scale deployment, what i often find overlooked in the discussion is the impact of having 10K or 10M small, decentralized co-generators instead of / in addition to having 10 or 1,000 large, centralized generators.  so, while some may talk of Nevada-sized solar arrays being needed, i for one don't buy the argument.

      intent wouldn't necessarily be to put large amounts of energy back onto the grid, but to off-load part or all of the localized electricity required, which would also defer or eliminate the need for new plant construction.  an added side benefit, of course, would be the widespread system resiliency in an off-line mode, whereby the impact from any outage would be significantly minimized over today's scenarios.

      your environmental concerns are absolutely valid, though i'm sure they are not insurmountable.  and the only way to make solar affordable for the middle class is to begin to deploy it to business and high end consumers, just like many other technological innovations.

      Demand Energy Security by 2020!

      by Doolittle Sothere on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:46:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  RE 'Footprint" ... (4.00)
      To you second point:

      As you suggest, how many square miles of rooftop are there in the United States? In the world?

      While there might be sensible reasons for massive solar installations, these seem counter to the best path -- as you suggest.

      The benefits of a distributed power system are huge -- more resiliency against disaster (manmade or otherwise) and efficiency through reduced power transmission losses.

      Personally, I believe it not that far in the future where 'solar' shingles become cost competitive upfront with (at least) higher end shingle products.  This would make 'solar' roofs sensible on new builds and for when people replace roofs.  Throw in a fiscal incentive and it could lead to 'carpeting' roofs.

      9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 10:23:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, What You Said (none)
        Decentralized power systems make mucho sense in, say, California, where an earthquake could knock out critical power plants.  Also, every rooftop with solar is another blow against Enron's "Death Star" strategy (intentionally overloading transmission lines from central generating plants to end users.)
        •  About... 10-15%... (4.00)
          of our roof has PV panels on it.

          When I get around to deep-sixing the ancient (but not yet dead, by god!) electic water heater (tank...) that only supplies water to the kitchen and laundry (home design issue--the house is kinda stretched out and skinny.  Not our doing...) with an electric on-demand heater, we'll provide all our electicity needs.

          100% of our annual power -- annualized.  Yes, it doesn't generate at night, but it pumps out waaaay more than we need when all you zombies are running A/C in summer.

          And that's 100% with all of the standard American excess, after trying to cut down and be responsible.  No hair dryers here, but there is a microwave, three computers that people rarely <grumble> seem to remember to shut off, a chest freezer...

          Our annual bill for electricity (and metering costs) now runs about $500.  Note--that's annual.

          When I replace the water heater, I expect to generate an annual excess equivalent to our getting a -$500 bill (but will still have to pay for metering... while SDG&E takes my nice, green, environmentally sound kWs and sells them at a stiff profit.  Rat-fucks.  They don't pay for any annual excess we generate.).

          "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

          by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:44:57 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I am impressed ... (none)
            By what you are achieving with your PV -- Kudos to you.

            I am shocked that you still have an old water heater considering that you have the PV.  On the other hand, now wait until after 1 January to buy an efficient system, since you can get a $150 credit. (On the other hand, companies seem to be raising prices in anticipation of increased demand due to the tax benefits ... thus, this is a tax subsidy for greater profit margins ...)

            One thought, re "rat fucks" ... The "rat fucks" are required to buy your power via net metering at retail price.  Your meter runs backwards, thus you get 'retail' price.  Note, it does cost them (in terms of billing / marketing / managing the company) more for the power than just what they pay a supplier for it.  Thus, your selling power back via net metering is a 'loss' to them that is probably greater than the 'green' surcharge.  This issue is why many utilities drag their feet on net metering -- every hook up is defined as a losing proposition in business model terms.  

            AN IDEA: In any event, shouldn't you check out the rule set for your net metering? If you sign up for that 'premium' green power at 100% of your power delivery, isn't your net metering credited to you at that rate?  Thus, you could end up getting more cash into your pocket via that path.

            9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

            by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 02:36:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm just shocked, too. (none)
              It's amazing what one can avoid...

              I do most of my own work around here.  I didn't install the PV.  You need formal creds to do so (with reason--that's a lot of juice and someone could easily be killed...).

              But I rebuilt and replumbed a bathroom from the studs out.  All the fixtures moved.  And I wired it.

              The water heater at the other end of the house is gas (was gas, already).  It's now on-demand, and it's spiffy.

              There was just something in the more plumbing... and having to run 220V to the heater (there's nowhere there to allow a gas on demand heater...) and the rest that I ran out of steam.

              I have the unit, even.

              We're about to get a cash infusion into our household, and I plan to hire a capable and competent electrician to come do the wiring... and bite the bullet.  Because I know the old heater's on its last legs... and because it does bug me.

              Unless the system's changed...

              SDG&E (back in '01, when we installed this) had an array of confusing options for us--none of them too attractive.  My uncle, up on the coast near LA, had PV--facing the "wrong" way--WSW.  But he cranked out so much power at peak demand times in peak demand months that PG&E paid him the value of that electricity... and it made up for the cost of the electricity he used in winter, etc.  Or mostly.

              SDG&E never offered anything that sounded attractive.  Their rate for top demand power was inconsequentially more than the normal demand rate... and so the amount they'd credit us was nominal, really.  They set "retail" prices.

              Before the freezer went in (and additional computers...), we were net $0 for the year, or close.  IAC, the arrangement we have is that we pay at the end of the year for overage... and they don't pay for anything if I've provided more kW than we used.

              CA power circumstances are strange... and SDG&E is it's own little island of weird in a sea of strange.

              But if you have links to info on net metering that are more up-to-date and clear, I'd love to see them.

              I have no real beef with them charging for metering.  THey come and check the meter, etc.  Fine.  If we actually achieved an exact net zero, where we generated the same amount of power we used, they'd charge us something like... $6/mo (I believe) for that.

              I can't see how the kW that they get pumped from my system (expecially since it's particularly at peak demand periods!) is more expensive for them.  It costs... what they pay us.  Which ought to be less than they get for it, granted.  But it's peak demand power, and green.  They're raking that in, somewhere...

              "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

              by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:37:35 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  I always post this link (none)
      ...the one about the Boston College physicists and their solar antenna with 80% efficiency...and very small foorprint.
      Here it is again.
    •  One of the under discussed (none)
      applications of solar isn't domestic but rather foreign aide.  I keep hearing about how PV is a toy for rich people.  Well, that may be true regarding the way we use energy here.  That is not true about the way energy is used in the developing world.

      In small villages in Sub-Saharan Africa or China, in South and Central America, where there is no electrical grid, it is much more feasible to bring in a small PV system that will make a huge difference.  Potable water, refrigeration for essential medicines, vaccines etc, telecommunications, perhaps and internet connection.  Things that can make a huge difference in the quality of life of the people there.  Currently the only alternative is diesel generators.  

      Waiting for the IMF or some other world body to provide the massive amount of financing required for a build out of a centralized grid system, even if it were desirable is not rational.  We can argue about what the best power source would be for this hypothetical centralized grid system, but the fact is that it isn't going to be build in our lifetimes at least not mine.  But I can see distributed power go into one village at a time.  And if we had an enlightened foreign policy, our foriegn aide would shift from military aide to this sort of thing.  We could really make an impact.

  •  energy debate limited by 'today's technology' (4.00)
    i belive the nation is in general poorly served by the ongoing political and industry discussions regarding fossil fuel costs compared to renewables.  yeah, we (all of us, not Kossacks) do allow for some cost erosion over time as solar/wind technology advances, but what if even the optimistic assumptions about efficiency improvements are proven wrong within 10 years?

    seriously, this diary reminds me that the greatest engine of innovation and growth in the world is the US business and technology community.  fuck, if we can put 11 men on the moon in 10 years or so, we certainly can make tremendous leaps and bounds in the generation, transmission and consumption of renewable energies.  

    and the pyron solar product, aa amazing as it is, is really only a clever way of implementing existing technology.  how utterly brilliant, but i'm sure even more mind-boggling improvements could be achieved fairly quickly, if it were only a national imperative.  

    i'm positive we could achieve a 'virtuous cycle' of efficiency gains and design improvements as simple things like solar strips are added to hybrids, curtains, shingles and everyday items, leading to second and third order benefits we have not yet even contemplated.  we'll need to make sure the Energize America forecast assumptions include  technological innovations such as pyron's.

    Demand Energy Security by 2020!

    by Doolittle Sothere on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:20:21 AM PST

    •  Not just "existing tech" (4.00)
      The 37% efficiency figure is the best production efficiency managed to-date.  NREL has worked on triple-junction cells that are supposed to achieve up to 48%, but 37+% is a great leap for production cells.

      The lens array - the "existing technology" - is mostly to keep the costs down; it's cheaper to concentrate the energy on a smaller area of high-efficiency cells than it is to spread those cells out over the entire area - if you can overcome the heat problems.

      But I agree with you; we've just slashed staffing at NREL's Bioenergy division and at the National Wind Technology Center outside of Boulder, CO in favor of earmark projects; how hard should it be to locate a replacement $60 million from, say, the $14 billion in oil subsidies to restore those modest programs.  Heck, for $14 billion, we could probably revolutionize energy production in this country within that decade you're talking about.

      Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. - William Pitt

      by Phoenix Rising on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:47:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Still... (none)
        I can't quite get over how cool it is.  I can remember as a kid going outside with a magnifying glass and trying to start a fire.  Burning your name into a piece of paper.  Or think of that scene from "Antz".  Clearly, there is a hell of a lot of power in concentrated sunlight.  We've known that for thousands of years.

        Now we can make devices that actually converts more than a third of that energy directly into pure DC electricity, with no moving parts.  

        I can remember when some folks were enamored with the "power" of certain crystals.  Well, OK.  I don't want to diss anybody's belief system.

        But here we have exquisitely engineered crystals that I know for a sure fire fact absolutely live to generate power.  And not some sort of power that you have to strain too hard to understand.  Why the effort to push the frontiers of this technology forward doesn't get more support baffles the hell out of me.

    •  Bring back the "Solar Gap" then... (none)
      if we can put 11 men on the moon in 10 years or so

      Which, I should remind you, had nothing to do with science and everything to one-upping the Russkies.

      If we wanted to do the same with alternative energy, we need to convince people those Godless Commie Bastards (although, these days, it'd be the Red Chinese) are ahead of us, and we need to deal with the dangers of a Solar Gap...

  •  Okay, so a little advice for me here, please. (none)
    If I were to buy a house in a sunny place, say SW France, New Mexico, or Southern California, and wanted to outfit with the latest in electricity producing solar technology, who would I contact and what would I be asking for?

    Thanks for this diary. I love science Friday! Science trumps myth anyday!

    "What luck for rulers that men do not think." - Adolf Hitler

    by Bensdad on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:24:09 AM PST

    •  Repeating myself... (none)
      (I just posted this downthread, but...)

      (I know they'll install throughout the Pacific and Southwest... and I suspect Mo'd be willing to look into doing a job in France...)

      I've no personal interest in the company.  But it's run by a friend who installed the PV array on our home (here, in San Diego Co.), and we're happy with the system.

      I can at least attest to the ethical character of the owners, and the quality of the work in installing our system, at a fair price.  We've never had any problem with it... and it's nice watching the meter run backwards.

      "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

      by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:59:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for showing us these tech ideas (4.00)
    If the trains in Europe can use the energy for internal energy, such as AC, lights, etc.  Wouldn't it be cool if you could combine the idea of the trains, the racing stripes on the Prius and do the same thing to our planes.  Think how much less energy planes would use if all of their hospitality energy (i.e. AC, cabin lights, internal heaters, etc) was fueled not by jet fuel but by solar collectors.  They would be perfect for this application because almost all planes fly above the cloud layer for most of their journey and get intense exposure to the sun during this period.  The only time they don't have access to the sun is when they land and park, and even then a cloudless sky could continue providing energy to the plane.
    •  In agreement ... (4.00)
      Although it is better than you think:

      1 -- Planes almost always in the open with potential sun exposure.  

      2 -- Technologies already exist for putting solar on aircraft.

      3 -- Composite wing structures are excellent environments for building in solar.

      Seems to me that an airline that had aircraft with solar in the wings would have a (slight) competitive advantage.  Would you pay 1 / 2 percent more for your plane ticket to fly on an aircraft with solar PV panels in the wings to run the TV screen?

      9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:47:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Competitive advantage (4.00)
        ooo - I bet you're right on the competitive advantage, especially since the price of jet fuel seems to be the the airlines' biggest cost lately.  The most important aspect of the solar panels would be allowing the planes to use less fuel in running their electrical systems; I'd imagine that even a relatively small savings in fuel would translate to a large, and rapid, savings in expenses.

        One problem I see - airlines already have incredibly high startup expenses, and often fly their planes for 30 years and more.  It will be pretty tough to convince an airline that is already in financial trouble (as most are right now) to replace their fleet with a slightly more fuel-efficient one.

        But if we know any airplane engineers (crickets chirping), is there a possibility of retrofitting the wings of already-running planes during maintenance?  Perhaps this is something that could be a modification - a relatively modest upgrade to an existing fleet that would increase efficiency and lower cost.

        Now how do we alert the airlines and the airline manufacturers to the possibility?

        O it is excellent to have a giant's strength: but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. --Measure for Measure, II.2

        by RogueStage on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 10:32:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually ... (4.00)
          current 'best' path would be during the construction cycle:

          -1- Why not the US Air Force's future tanker program?

          -2- Boeing's developing new aircraft.

          -3- An option for the Airbus A380?

          Re 'competitive' advantage, while there would be some marginal fuel savings (and, considering the costs of moving the aircraft through the air, we are talking incredibly marginal) that likely would not make up for the developmental costs for designing / building this new wing, the 'payoff' is advertising oneself as a 'greener' airline.

          I assume that most of the readers of this diary, if told that they had a choice to take a trip on a 'standard' or a 'solar-augmented' passenger jet would take the one with solar PV wings.  Thus, there is an advantage by attracting some portion of the traveling public to favor your company over the competition.  This should provide advantage in 'percent full' which translates quite directly into a profit.

          The "value" for the airline would not really be in the electricity generated by the solar PV but in the goodwill generated with those concerned with 'green' issues. And, with the realities of global warming, likely that community will continue to grow.

          9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

          by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 10:37:46 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Why not just use the Prius (none)
          example.  According to the post, it is a simple kit and doesn't come standard with the car.  If they can create a kit to funnel energy into a car and just stick them on, why couldn't they do that for airplanes.  That way they wouldn't have to replace the entire plane to improve its energy efficiency.
          •  Safety ... engineering tests ... weight ... (none)
            Adding anything to an aircraft -- especially structural to a commercial aircraft -- is a very long, tedious, and expensive project.

            For a car, on the other hand, only question becomes for something like this whether the company will void some part of the car's warranty.

            9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

            by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 02:38:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  If you really want to go crazy (none)
          you could plug them into the airports while they are at the terminals rather than trying to incorporate onboard batteries.  Airlines could meter their terminals and rebate their terminal costs.

          A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

          by Webster on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 11:33:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  You get Southwest (none)
          which already understands how to operate at a profit, and how to hedge for the future, to go that way.

          They'll cut their long-term costs, hose their competition completely in 10 years, who'll scream that they just can't compete...

          "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

          by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:47:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Solar-powered planes? You rang? (4.00)
      THey already exist.  Could be used as stratospheric radio relay, they work so well.  They fly for months! (pilotless)

  •  Concentrators (4.00)
    The only problem with concentrators is that they can't produce any power from indirect light (on a cloudy day, for instance). Mono and polcrystalline flat cells can.

    Mind you, if the improvements in efficiency and energy cost to manufacture are great enough, it isn't a big loss.

    For the poster who asked about whether these efficiency numbers included energy cost to manufacture, no. They don't. But the payback time on PV is not bad (yes, they do pay back all of their energy cost, and then some).

    There is an article at NREL  (the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a division of the Dept. of Energy) that covers payback times.

    [-7.13, -8.41]

    by evilpenguin on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:33:54 AM PST

    •  This has been an on going debate for decades (none)
      I don't think it really holds water.  What it really means is that concentrators are more of a niche market.  It has to do with an analysis of the resource.  In many parts of the country (or the world) there is very little difference between the global and the direct spectrum.  Places where there is low humidity and little scattering, the desert southwest, high elevations etc.  Additionally, concentrators make more sense in larger installations.  There has always been this sense that these technologies are somehow competing against one another and I don't really think that is true.  There are applications where concentators make more sense than anything else.  Then there are applications where they don't.  It has to do with the specifics of the location.
  •  Fantastic diary! (4.00)
    Put all this together and we don't need to ever expand coal and nuclear power.
    •  but then how would we rape and plunder the earth? (none)
      and how would oil and gas companies continue their destructive monopolies?

      this communistic plot to take over america can not be tolerated!  

      i'm sure you all know that coal is god's gift to christians, and nookular waste is allah's gift to the jihihadis.

      Demand Energy Security by 2020!

      by Doolittle Sothere on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 09:55:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  oils well that ends well (none)
      Of course we are needing a lot of energy to create the solar panels.  When they run asolor panel manufacturing plany off solor energy I'll be impressed.

      smile...and the whole world despises you.

      by David in Burbank on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:17:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  going green in socal (4.00)
    here are some links.  i'm redoing my house in southern california, and i'm attempting to do everything possible to mitigate both energy use and use renewable resource where possible. makes great solar panelled roofs. as well, and they have an interesting inverter technology that can take you off the grid for a few days should you need know, if there were some kind of natural disaster here in socal, what could it be? can replace the need for a/c units in a desert-like area (e.g. cool nights hot days).

    also, is a VERY efficient heating system, it goes under the flooring or can be integrated into the flooring (if you are using concrete, and of course you can use recycled concrete these days.

    if people are interested, i might start a diary to keep track of what materials i use, what tax rebates i get etc.

    •  Yes! (none)
      I'd be interested in your proposed diary...


    •  I'm interested. (none)

      I'm very interested!
    •  I'm interested too! (none)
      My dream is to have a house that is totally solar powered.  No electricity, no oil, no coal, just solar.
    •  Hey Robert (none)
      Thanks for those links.  I'm just starting a project where we were looking at slab heating, but now I'm thinking about the warmboards.  Of course, I'm such a cheap bastard I may just use a router to carve my own path in the subfloor, but I'll be getting their info.


      A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

      by Webster on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 11:45:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agree re warmboards ... (none)
        they seem really interesting.  Check out Radiant Solar, as well, that specializes in linking solar to radiant.  I am contemplating working with them on an addition project and have been incredibly impressed by their responsiveness and interested in their approach.  (But, thanks to this post, Warmboard is now interesting me and is worth a look ...)

        9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

        by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 02:44:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Re GridPoint ... (none)
      They don't make solar roofs -- but they are a start-up with a tremendously interesting product.  They, in essence, commoditize the power management and all the interfaces between whatever power sources one might have (solar, wind, fuel cell, or even a diesel generator) and the grid. Rather than spending a huge amount of time researching and putting together a 'customized' interface & power management (including batteries) system, someone can show up with one of the the GridPoint systems and install it in perhaps under an hour.  And, it is very clean looking (as opposed to the mass of batteries in most home solar set ups).

      9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

      by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 11:47:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Where (none)
        do I get one?
        •  Go to website ... (none)
          And check directly with the company.  This is early start up.  They are planning, as I understand it, to deliver 1000 in 2006.  (They recently got some financing and there was a pretty long article about it in the Washington Post.)

          DISCLOSURE:  I have ZERO financial relationship with Gridpoint. Have seen a beta version at an acquaintance's house.  I was quite impressed. He is ecstatic.

          9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

          by besieged by bush on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:41:57 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  gridpoint (none)
            i'm definitely working with gridpoint.  what they do is amazing, and makes so much sense.  it is technology harnessed to make technology more comprehensible, and if they can make it work (no guarantees, and this early adopter can tell you) the ability to adjust energy use on the fly will be unprecedented.
            •  If you do work with them ... (none)
              would love feedback / contact ...

              besiegedbybush AT yahoo DOT com

              I think that this is potentially a revolutionary advance in commoditizing home energy management ...

              And, it seems to me, that there is a easy next step for this to a computer connection to allow more proactive monitoring / management of the home energy system.  Perhaps, rather than power strips to shut off power to vampire systems (TV / microwave / etc ...), an ability to have automatic shut-off of areas of the house (for example, have the "office" area automatically shut off from 11 pm to 6 am every day; to have the family room with TV shut off from 0900 to 1730 every work day (eliminating power drain from CD / DVD / TV); and so on ...

              By the way, from solar / wind expert acquaintances who install many systems, they say that they see a 3-5% savings in power use simply through rationalizing the electrical panels.

              9/11/05, Day 1469, A count worth keeping? Or, Osama Bin Forgotten?

              by besieged by bush on Sat Dec 10, 2005 at 06:16:58 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  amen (none)
      what efficiency will your cells get? Ahnode just got back from China touting SunPower's 20% efficiency solar panels.....
  •  All very exciting developments (4.00)
    Of course if our government would seriously commit itself to long term, significant dollar solar research, development and implementation instead of dribbling a few bucks out of the oil companies' subsidies every few years when the environmentalists get too noisy yet again, we'd be light years ahead of where we are.

    One of the biggest advantages of solar is that the energy generation (can) occur at the point of consumption, thus decentralizing power generation, reducing the strain on the overloaded power grid, and removing the significant loss inherent in transport from the power plant.  All of these are useful in reducing our dependency on foreign oil and making the infrastructure more hardened against terrorism (if you need Republican talking point justifications in addition to the obvious ones)

    I've heard about some new materials scientists are working with for solar cells, both of which avoid the whole pure-silicon supply and price crunch, and sound incredibly promising for the future of solar

    One is a plastic-based solar cell, still relatively inefficient, but efficiencies are climbing rapidly.  Even though it will likely never reach that of silicon, the manufacturing cost is so low comparatively that it would be worth it anyway, especially in areas with little or no power infrastructure, such as Africa.  In addition, people would be far more likely to install a $1000 solar panel on their roof than a $20,000 solar panel, even if they only get 1/3 as much power out of it.

    The other is quantum dot technology, which has a lot of promise but is still in its early research phases.  A brief google turned up this: which suggests quantum dot solar cells could eventually reach more than 65% efficiency, in addition to using a wider spectrum of the sun's energy.  Though pure-silicon is avoided, quantum dots are probably a ways off yet from having cheap mass production methodologies.  I think cost projections for the eventual configuration would probably still be premature, but I have high hopes.

    Personally I believe, excepting the possible eventual design of a usable fusion generator, that solar is by far the best possible economic and environmental direction for our energy future.  

    For vehicles, I believe that the currently touted hydrogen fuel cell path is a plan full of hot air designed to take the pressure off of carmakers for the 20 years it will take to prove hydrogen's economic infeasibility and environmental unsoundness.  Pushing and eventually requiring ultraclean and efficient hybrid technologies would do far more to help the environment, especially in the short term.

  •  Imagine --- (4.00)
    rather than spending the roughly stated $250B we already have to get at Iraqi oil fields {and we all know the real dollar value is probably closer to $500B}, just 10% of that was spent on solar.


    $25B on solar

    $25B on wind power

    $25B on geothermal

    $25B on tide power

    $25B on scrubbers to make existing coal plants cleaner

    $25B on making appliances more effiecent

    $25B on improving efficiency of vehicles and reduced emissions

    $25B on helping mass transit in urban areas

    What could we have?

    "Symplerovus vulgaris americanus" - nasty unindicted co-conspirator. -7.63, -9.59

    by shpilk on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 11:42:35 AM PST

  •  Great article and a question... (none)
    My wife and I live in a 1150 sq. ft. condominium. We live in San Diego County and our place faces south. We get loads of sun all day, 350+ days/year. We wouldn't be able to put the panels on our roof, but they could sit on one of two porches we have.

    The one solar panel sales type person I spoke with wasn't encouraging about such an arrangement.

    What can I get for an attached unit like ours?
    Where do I find more information?


    (-8.88/-7.64): I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land!

    by Joshua Lyman on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 12:35:55 PM PST

    •  Here's a source... (none)

      I've no personal interest in the company.  But it's run by a friend who installed the PV array on our home (here, in San Diego Co.), and we're happy with the system.

      I can at least attest to the ethical character of the owners, and the quality of the work in installing our system, at a fair price.  We've never had any problem with it... and it's nice watching the meter run backwards.

      "I desire what is good. Therefore, everyone who does not agree with me is a traitor." King George III

      by ogre on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 01:56:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  In 8th Grade (none)
    This was back in 1974 or so, I made a model of a solar cell for science class, based on an article in National Geographic.  There was no way at that time that I thought I would grow up into a non-solar world.  Thanks for the good news.

    I've made a deal with myself that I can only get a hot tub if i go solar first.

  •  My mother is building her retirement home... (4.00)
    and she's building it green! She's doing a solar paneled roof, using recycled materials to build with and she's doing the "dirty water" thing where her bath water gets moved to her toilet bowl so she doesn't use clean water everytime she flushes. She says it's the least she can do. The more people who build green houses the more people will inspired to do the same.
  •  Got an extension cord? (none)
    My crazy dream:
       Get a few robots on the moon to build robots.  Those robots build a mass accellerator to launch stuff off the moon.  Wait, is there silica on the moon?  Anyways, assume so.  Keep making robots.  Launch silica and robots to L3 and L5.  Use the silica to make solar arrays.  Make enough solar arrays to power all our needs, including reversing global warming (putting CO2 back into the ground).  Put up enough of those space elevator cables (sans (without) the elevators) to send the electricity down safely.  Plug my laptop in.  Go to DKos site.  Pre-order DKos book.  

    If we work quickly enough we'll have enough to power the UPS trucks to deliver the books.  They'll need it.

    Thats how you dream.

    Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't.

    by d3n4l1 on Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 03:04:10 PM PST

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