I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Solar gets competitive

I can't get too excited about politics right now but this is exciting:
Solar cheaper than coal and falling
New developments in solar power make 'clean coal' look even dumber
Let me be the last in the greenosphere to note that Nanosolar has shipped its first panels, and it's no exaggeration to say that this moment will likely be seen as a historical turning point.


Nanosolar's claim is that power from their panels will pencil out at about $0.99 a watt. The implications are pretty stunning:
"With a $1-per-watt panel," [CEO Martin Roscheisen] said, "it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems."

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.
So what is Nanosolar and what do they do different?
The New Dawn of Solar
The company produces its PowerSheet solar cells with printing-press-style machines that set down a layer of solar-absorbing nano-ink onto metal sheets as thin as aluminum foil, so the panels can be made for about a tenth of what current panels cost and at a rate of several hundred feet per minute. With backing from Google’s founders and $20 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, Nanosolar’s first commercial cells rolled off the presses this year.

Cost has always been one of solar’s biggest problems. Traditional solar cells require silicon, and silicon is an expensive commodity (exacerbated currently by a global silicon shortage). What’s more, says Peter Harrop, chairman of electronics consulting firm IDTechEx, “it has to be put on glass, so it’s heavy, dangerous, expensive to ship and expensive to install because it has to be mounted.” And up to 70 percent of the silicon gets wasted in the manufacturing process. That means even the cheapest solar panels cost about $3 per watt of energy they go on to produce. To compete with coal, that figure has to shrink to just $1 per watt.

Nanosolar’s cells use no silicon, and the company’s manufacturing process allows it to create cells that are as efficient as most commercial cells for as little as 30 cents a watt. “You’re talking about printing rolls of the stuff—printing it on the roofs of 18-wheeler trailers, printing it on garages, printing it wherever you want it,” says Dan Kammen, founding director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. “It really is quite a big deal in terms of altering the way we think about solar and in inherently altering the economics of solar.”
This is perhaps the greatest threat the corporate energy industry has seen. Coal was seen as the only alternative to large scale energy production. Alternatives have been far too expensive - until now. It represents an even greater threat; it can be decentralized making those thousands of mile of transmission lines unnecessary and eliminating the monopoly that electric power has been. There are no big profits in roof top electrical generation. Look for the powerful to attempt to erect roadblocks to stop it's widespread use. This represents a bigger threat to big energy than global warming.

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