Good News: 1


The Price Of Solar: 1997: $76.67 per watt

 2013: $0.74


This year saw the price of photovoltaic cells for solar panels continue its dramatic slide downward, reaching $0.74 per watt. That’s a 99 percent drop over the last 25 years, bringing solar to near-parity with the rest of the grid. Decades of support from state and federal governments around the world in the form of R&D, purchases, renewable energy standards, and subsidies played a large role in making such a significant drop possible.  The level solar PV power in Germany has been increasing exponentially for the last 20 years, with a doubling time of 1.56 years.

File:Increase in german solar PV as a percentage of total electricity consumption.svg

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Costs of Solar are in Decline

7 Reasons Why The Solar Revolution Took Off

Rob Wile                  Oct.  2, 2013,  9:33 AM                                        4,529                 8

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The shale revolution has gotten a lot of attention in the past few  years, and rightfully so.


But during pretty much the exact same time, a solar boom has occurred, as  you’ll se in the chart at the right.

It shows percentage growth of various forms of electricity  generation.

Solar is up 700% since 2001.

Fossil fuels and nuclear barely even register.

We’ve lately been documenting the rise of solar, including a new world record in solar efficiency and how solar  generation has already begun wreaking havoc on utilities.

But we wanted to chronicle how solar has been able to explode in the past  decade.

No one thing has helped push solar over the top.

It’s more like a bunch of events building to a head.

1.  Climate change got real

Even before Columbia University astrophysicist James Hansen published his warning in 2005 that climate change was  spiraling out of control — and then was told by the Bush Administration to keep  quiet — there was concern about rising temperatures and more extreme  weather.

The very first line of the New York Public Service Commission’s 2003  introduction to their proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard is, “We are  increasingly concerned with the effects on our climate of fossil-fired  generation.”

According to Hansen’s model, ocean heat content — the amount of heat, as  measures in Watts, in the ocean — had increased 600% in the previous decade:


2.  Oil and gas prices started increasing

When they first introduced a renewable portfolio standard, the New York Public Service Commission noted that energy  prices were becoming increasingly volatile after a decade of stability

Here’s what they were talking about (for reasons you’ll see in a moment we’ve  extended out the dates): first is natgas, second is oil

natural gasFRED






Gas prices began to feel effects from shut-ins caused by hurricanes,  while oil prices shot upward as a result of global demand.

Plus, peak fossil fuels apparently had come back on everyone’s minds.

“Inasmuch as there is a finite supply of natural gas and other fossil  fuels, over-dependence on such will leave the State vulnerable to price  spikes and possible supply disruptions,” the commission said.

3.  Everyone got a renewable fuel standard

Twenty nine states plus Washington DC now have enforceable renewable  portfolio standards (RPS), meaning a percentage of an electricity  supplier’s sales or new generating capacity must be green. The two  previous steps help explain why more than half of states with RPS adopted their  standards between 2004 and 2007, according to a University of Michigan study.

Sixteen of these have specific requirements for solar (the  biggest solar generators like California don’t even need them).



4.  And everyone was ordered to get net metering

Net metering allows a homeowner with a renewable power supply to sell  electricity back to their utility. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated that all public utilities offer net metering upon  request.


5.  Solar incentives get packed into The Bailout (yes that  Bailout)

The Energy Policy Act also created federal incentives for solar —  a 30% investment tax credit (ITC) for commercial and residential  solar energy systems. Between 2006 and 2007, the amount of solar electric  capacity in the U.S. doubled.

The ITC, as originally conceived, was only supposed to last until that year, though it ended up  getting an initial one-year extension.

But then the ITC received a major expansion — in Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, aka The  Bailout, of all places:

  • It got extended for eight years
  • A monetary cap on eligible residential installations was eliminated
  • Companies and and utilities paying the alternative minimum tax could now  qualify for the credit

6.  European subsidies unleashed a global tidal wave of cheap solar  panels

Of all the items on this list, this may be the most consequential.

For almost a decade, European countries poured billions of dollars into their  renewable sector, with solar often leading the way. Germany was at one point spending €1.5 billion a year on its  solar industry.

It paid off there: Between 2000 and 2008 photovoltaic generation increased  from 32 million to 4.4 billion kilowatt hours.

germany solarREUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Sheep graze between the solar panels of a solar park in  Waghaeusel, 20 km (12 miles) southeast of Karlsruhe, March 21, 2011.


As a result of Europe’s head-first dive into solar, the Chinese  began rolling out enormous quantities of solar modules, ultimately capturing a  full 25% of the market:

china solarStefan de Haan/iSuppli


Not surprisingly, solar module costs plummeted:

This ultimately led to a big fight, with Europe accusing China of dumping.


The U.S. also ended up imposing tariffs last fall, and  President Obama actually got in trouble during the 2012 campaign for  spending stimulus dollars on less expensive Chinese panels.

As the New York Times noted, tariffs often to backfire:

“The opponents argue that the duties would  make it more expensive for American families and companies to install solar  systems.”

The Commerce Department ended up structuring the tariffs such that U.S. firms  could buy Chinese-made solar panels from other countries, and GTM Research’s  Shayle Kann told the New York Times that there wouldn’t be much of an  impact.

But the supply glut created by the Europe-China dynamic is expected to last until next year — meaning costs are  going to remain pretty low.

7.  Solar got its own Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law dictates that computer processing speeds increase exponentially  every year thanks to ever-improving technology.

The same phenomena is now true in solar: every year, solar cells get  incrementally more efficient, meaning they’re able to convert more electrons  into energy.

The following chart from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows what  this looks like:

solar efficiencyNREL


While these represent efficiencies achieved in a lab, efficiencies  on retail panels have gone up more than a third of a basis point each year since  2000,  from 11.2% to 16.1%.


This helps explain why Colorado’s public utility just declared solar to be cost  competitive with gas.

Read more:

Wildpoldsried. Doing it Right

German Town Produces Hydro Surplus. Wildpolsried

It’s no surprise that the country that has kicked butt at the Solar Decathlon competition (to produce energy positive solar houses) year after year is the home to such a productive energy-efficient village.


The village’s green initiative first started in 1997 when the village council decided that it should build new industries, keep initiatives local, bring in new revenue, and create no debt. Over the past 14 years, the community has equipped nine new community buildings with solar panels, built four biogas digesters (with a fifth in construction now) and installed seven windmills with two more on the way. In the village itself, 190 private households have solar panels while the district also benefits from three small hydro power plants, ecological flood control, and a natural waste water system.

All of these green systems means that despite only having a population of 2,600, Wildpoldsried produces 321 percent more energy than it needs – and it’s generating 4.0 million Euro (US $5.7 million) in annual revenue by selling it back to the national grid. It is no surprise to learn that small businesses have developed in the village specifically to provide services to the renewable energy installations.

Over the years the village’s green goals have been so successful that they have even crafted a mission statement — WIR–2020, Wildpoldsried Innovativ Richtungsweisend (Wildpoldsried Innovative Leadership). The village council hopes that it will inspire citizens to do their part for the environment and create green jobs and businesses for the local area.

As a result of the village’s success, Wildpoldsried has received numerous national and international awards for its conservation and renewable energy initiatives known as Klimaschutz (climate protection). The council even hosts tours for other village councils on how to start their own Klimaschutz program. The Mayor has even been doing global tours ever since the Fukushima disaster.

Mayor Zengerle has gone to Romania, Berlin and the Black Sea Region to speak about how these places can transform their communities and make money in the process. Speaking to Biocycle, Mayor Zengerle said, “The mitigation of climate change in practice can only be implemented with the citizens and with the Village Council behind them 100 percent of the way. This model cannot be forced from only one side. We often spend a lot of time talking to our visitors about how to motivate the village council (and Mayor) to start thinking differently. We show them a best practices model in motion and many see the benefits immediately. From the tour we give, our guests understand how well things can operate when you have the enthusiasm and conviction of the people.”

Read more

Four years to cheap power

Photosynthesis. Dr. Daniel G. Nocera

A great analysis of what is happening. Everyone should set aside an hour in this month to view this and check it out.


If you can imitate the process a plant does with photosynthesis you can generate electricity without adding to carbon levels in the atmosphere. He says that he can do it.

For $85,000 you can do this right now. PV on your roof.

Hydrogen storage in your basement.

A converter system in the house. NO GRID. mit-nocera-power-2-working house-powerstatin

He wants to destroy the grid. ie  the structures that distribute the electricity generated by coal and nuclear to the individual.

Nano Solarium

Interesting theory and practice here. Willis has patented the technology to produce this of solar power generation mechanism.


Brian Willis, associate professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering, in his lab, with an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Brian Willis, associate professor of chemical, materials, and biomolecular engineering, in his lab, with an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

A novel fabrication technique developed by UConn engineering professor Brian Willis could provide the breakthrough technology scientists have been looking for to vastly improve today’s solar energy systems.

For years, scientists have studied the potential benefits of a new branch of solar energy technology that relies on incredibly small nanosized antenna arrays that are theoretically capable of harvesting more than 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation and simultaneously converting it into usable electric power.

The technology would be a vast improvement over the silicon solar panels in widespread use today. Even the best silicon panels collect only about 20 percent of available solar radiation, and separate mechanisms are needed to convert the stored energy to usable electricity for the commercial power grid. The panels’ limited efficiency and expensive development costs have been two of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of solar power as a practical replacement for traditional fossil fuels.

But while nanosized antennas have shown promise in theory, scientists have lacked the technology required to construct and test them. The fabrication process is immensely challenging. The nano-antennas – known as “rectennas” because of their ability to both absorb and rectify solar energy from alternating current to direct current – must be capable of operating at the speed of visible light and be built in such a way that their core pair of electrodes is a mere 1 or 2 nanometers apart, a distance of approximately one millionth of a millimeter, or 30,000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair.


This new technology could get us over the hump and make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels.


The potential breakthrough lies in a novel fabrication process called selective area atomic layer deposition (ALD) that was developed by Willis, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the previous director of UConn’s Chemical Engineering Program. Willis joined UConn in 2008 as part of an eminent faculty hiring initiative that brought an elite team of leaders in sustainable energy technology to the University. Willis developed the ALD process while teaching at the University of Delaware, and patented the technique in 2011.

Illustration of a working nanosized optical rectifying antenna or rectenna. (Illustration by Justine Braisted '13 (SFA))

Illustration of a working nanosized optical rectifying antenna or rectenna. (Illustration by Justine Braisted ’13 (SFA))

It is through atomic layer deposition that scientists can finally fabricate a working rectenna device. In a rectenna device, one of the two interior electrodes must have a sharp tip, similar to the point of a triangle. The secret is getting the tip of that electrode within one or two nanometers of the opposite electrode, something similar to holding the point of a needle to the plane of a wall. Before the advent of ALD, existing lithographic fabrication techniques had been unable to create such a small space within a working electrical diode. Using sophisticated electronic equipment such as electron guns, the closest scientists could get was about 10 times the required separation. Through atomic layer deposition, Willis has shown he is able to precisely coat the tip of the rectenna with layers of individual copper atoms until a gap of about 1.5 nanometers is achieved. The process is self-limiting and stops at 1.5 nanometer separation.

The size of the gap is critical because it creates an ultra-fast tunnel junction between the rectenna’s two electrodes, allowing a maximum transfer of electricity. The nanosized gap gives energized electrons on the rectenna just enough time to tunnel to the opposite electrode before their electrical current reverses and they try to go back. The triangular tip of the rectenna makes it hard for the electrons to reverse direction, thus capturing the energy and rectifying it to a unidirectional current.

Impressively, the rectennas, because of their incredibly small and fast tunnel diodes, are capable of converting solar radiation in the infrared region through the extremely fast and short wavelengths of visible light – something that has never been accomplished before. Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

The federal government has taken notice of Willis’s work. Willis and a team of scientists from Penn State Altoona along with SciTech Associates Holdings Inc., a private research and development company based in State College, Pa., recently received a $650,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to fabricate rectennas and search for ways to maximize their performance.

“This new technology could get us over the hump and make solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels,” says Willis. “This is brand new technology, a whole new train of thought.”

The Penn State Altoona research team – which has been exploring the theoretical side of rectennas for more than a decade – is led by physics professor Darin Zimmerman, with fellow physics professors Gary Weisel and Brock Weiss serving as co-investigators. The collaboration also includes Penn State emeritus physics professors Paul Cutler and Nicholas Miskovsky, who are principal members of Scitech Associates.

“The solar power conversion device under development by this collaboration of two universities and an industry subcontractor has the potential to revolutionize green solar power technology by increasing efficiencies, reducing costs, and providing new economic opportunities,” Zimmerman says.

“Until the advent of selective atomic layer deposition (ALD), it has not been possible to fabricate practical and reproducible rectenna arrays that can harness solar energy from the infrared through the visible,” says Zimmerman. “ALD is a vitally important processing step, making the creation of these devices possible. Ultimately, the fabrication, characterization, and modeling of the proposed rectenna arrays will lead to increased understanding of the physical processes underlying these devices, with the promise of greatly increasing the efficiency of solar power conversion technology.”

Brian Willis holds a rectenna device. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Brian Willis holds a rectenna device. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The atomic layer deposition process is favored by science and industry because it is simple, easily reproducible, and scalable for mass production. Willis says the chemical process is already used by companies such as Intel for microelectronics, and is particularly applicable for precise, homogenous coatings for nanostructures, nanowires, nanotubes, and for use in the next generation of high-performing semi-conductors and transistors.

Willis says the method being used to fabricate rectennas also can be applied to other areas, including enhancing current photovoltaics (the conversion of photo energy to electrical energy), thermoelectrics, infrared sensing and imaging, and chemical sensors.

A 2011 seed grant from UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering allowed Willis to fabricate a prototype rectenna and gather preliminary data using ALD that was instrumental in securing the NSF grant, Willis says.

Over the next year, Willis and his collaborators in Pennsylvania plan to build prototype rectennas and begin testing their efficiency. Willis compares the process to tuning in a station on a radio.

“We’ve already made a first version of the device,” says Willis. “Now we’re looking for ways to modify the rectenna so it tunes into frequencies better. I compare it to the days when televisions relied on rabbit ear antennas for reception. Everything was a static blur until you moved the antenna around and saw the ghost of an image. Then you kept moving it around until the image was clearer. That’s what we’re looking for, that ghost of an image. Once we have that, we can work on making it more robust and repeatable.”

Willis says finding that magic point where a rectenna picks up maximum solar energy and rectifies it into electrical power will be the champagne-popping, “ah-ha” moment of the project.

“To capture the visible light frequencies, the rectenna have to get smaller than anything we’ve ever made before, so we’re really pushing the limits of what we can do,” says Willis. “And the tunnel junctions have to operate at the speed of visible light, so we’re pushing down to these really high speeds to the point where the question becomes ‘Can these devices really function at this level?’ Theoretically we know it is possible, but we won’t know for sure until we make and test this device.”