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Split Water Solar

Split Water Solar

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Published by: api-10533238 on May 16, 2009
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Investing in Solar Innovation ...
by Sean Brodrick 
As an energy crisis threatens to derail the U.S. economy, it really bugs methat there is a 170-billion-megawatt fusion reactor we are not takingadvantage of.
I'm talking about the sun, which, when you get down to it, is a big ol' fusionreactor — nuclear energy on steroids. Enough sunlight falls on the Earth'ssurface
every hour 
to meet world energy demand for an
entire year 
Even if we harnessed just 2.5% of the sun's energy falling onto the 250,000square miles in the Southwest best suited for solar power plants that wouldmatch the total power used in the U.S. in 2006!
The world is hungry for solar power. Pushed along by government taxcredits, global demand for photo-voltaic (solar) power hit 3,073 megawattsin 2007, up from 1,985 megawatts in 2006 — 54% growth. That's on top of 41% growth in 2006 and 34% in 2005.
But solar technology is in its infancy — we've barely scratched the surface of what it can do. Today I'd like to lay out some details why I think solar is notonly a good bet for today but also for tomorrow.Not only could groundbreaking technological advances make solar power thefuel of the future, but they offer the potential of enormous profits along theway.
We're Getting Closer to the Third Generation of Solar Power
You have to understand that there is an evolution going on in the solarpower industry. In fact, we are rapidly approaching a new generation of solar power. Let me explain ...
First generation solar power:
These are the silicon (or more descriptively,"polysilicon") solar cells you're familiar with. Over 90% of solar panels in themarket today use refined, purified silicon as raw material. By now, they'rehigh quality and have few defects, but they're expensive, costing about $1per watt.
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SunPower (SPWR) is the largest NorthAmerican solar company by sales, andthey make their money in polysilicon.
Evergreen Solar (ESLR) is anothername to watch in this space. Theyhave proprietary "ribbon" technologyusing thinly stretched polysilicon.
Second generation solar:
Thisinvolves low cost manufacturing.These cheap solar cells can bring costsdown to a little under 50 cents a watt,but can have defects and are generallyless efficient than first generationtechnology. Both problems are being worked on furiously.
Third generation solar power:
It's coming soon, and uses advancedtechnology to marry the efficiency and quality of first generation with thelow cost of the second generation.
Let's look at some of the new solar technologies coming 'round the bend ...
New Technology #1:
Solar panel roof tiles.
One objection to solar poweris it looks darned ugly sitting up on your roof. Now, you can buy roof tilesthat are made with built-in photovoltaic cells and are designed to blend inwith most types of roof tiles whether they are concrete, slate, or shingle.Each solar tile has a connector and the tiles are wired together duringinstallation. These solar tiles can be installed during roofing or re-roofingyour house. Some of the companies currently producing solar panel roof tilesare General Electric, SunPower, and Premier Power.
New Technology #2: 
Thin-filmphotovoltaic (PV) solar panels.
This is a laminate (thin sheet) thateliminates the heavy glass and racksof conventional solar power systems.You can peel and stick the thin-filmlaminate right onto a metal rack thatgoes on your roof.Thin-film PV systems can run abouthalf the cost of a conventional solarpower system, maybe less. And
Over 90% of solar panels on themarket today use refined, purified  silicon as raw material.
Now, you can buy roof tiles that aremade with built-in photovoltaic cells
Page 3 of 6
they're made out of metals including copper, indium, gallium, selenium andzinc. That should be good news for companies that mine those metals.
The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has created thin filmsolar panels that are very close to competing with their more traditionalsilicon-based cousins, with an efficiency rate of 19.9% (that's how much of the sun's light is converted to electricity).
This will come to market sooner than you think. Thin-film solar panels arealready being used by power companies and industrial users, are available toconsumers in Europe, and should be commercially available to U.S.consumers in 2009. These systems will drop the price of solar powerdrastically to maybe 50 cents a watt within 10 years, say experts, as thin-film solar becomes more efficient.First Solar (FSLR) is a good name in this space.
New Technology #3: 
Super-efficient solar windows.
MIT researchersare working on special glass panels for windows that are combined with solarcells. The panels concentrate light 40 times standard sunlight before deliverydirectly to the cell.
These are much more efficient than conventional solar cells, capturing about50% of the sun's energy.
And the system is so simple to manufacture that the inventors expect it tobe deployed within three years at little cost over standard window costs. Thetechnology can be added to existing solar panels at very little cost but anincrease in existing efficiency of 50%.
That's the real beauty of this. Even if you have existing solar power at yourhouse, you could upgrade it in a few years with the new MIT technology.
New Technology #4: 
Nanosolar power sheets.
Researchers at the NewJersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have come up with solar cells that area thin coating of paint that converts light to electricity. They can be paintedor printed on flexible plastic sheets. The goal is to make them cheap enoughthat consumers can slap them on walls and roofs to make their own at-homepower stations.
These aren't ready yet. But researchers in Japan are working on pretty muchthe same technology, so the race is on to get it to market.

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