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Solar, solar everywhere

As a native Californian I think solar power is an obvious choice for favorite renewable energy source. Even though solar power is a small part of the world’s renewable portfolio right now, smart policy decisions paired with technological advances will help bring solar forward as an integral part of the green economic recovery. The following are a few highlights of solar technology that I’ve come across recently, and please feel free to add your own to the comments.

Starting at the small end of the spectrum, researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have come up with thin, flexible solar cells that compete with traditional solar cells in terms of efficiency. What makes these particularly exciting is that they use a lot less material (less is more, and less is cheaper), they are flexible, and they can be made see through. There are a lot of possibilities with this sort of technology. Too bright out? Roll down the solar cell blinds! Convert your car to run off of a battery, then just stick a clear solar cell array on your roof. Semiconductor manufacturer Semprius, based in Durham, North Carolina, expects to begin a pilot project manufacturing the cells in about one year’s time.

From some of the world’s smallest to the world’s largest, Abengoa Solar has just started commercial operations on its PS20 solar power tower, the largest solar power tower in the world located near Seville, Spain. PS20 is expected to avoid 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, part of a larger installation that will reach 300 MW and prevent 185,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Not only is Abengoa showing that solar power can provide electricity on a massive scale, initial testing indicates that PS20 is producing more electricity than anticipated.

Last but definitely not least, and much closer to home, is Solyndra, a manufacturer of cylindrical thin-film solar cells. Based in Fremont, California, Solyndra’s innovative design (the modules look like a row of dark fluorescent lightbulbs) marries easy installation, low cost, and high efficiency. At Livermore Cinemas in California, a recent installation of Solyndra equipment has given it the distinction of the most solar electrical capacity of any movie theater in the United States. Even more impressive is the fact that the system (with a rated capacity of 132 kW) took only four days to install. Having recently received a loan guarantee from the DOE to the tune of $535 million, this surely won’t be the last you hear of Solyndra.

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