Monday, March 20, 2006

Venture Capital in the solar game

Hey solarDwellers:

Check out this solar article by Tyler Hamilton, who writes on clean energy for the Toronto Star and has his own blog called Clean Break. There's a "clean tech" conference coming up around March 23 in San Francisco, where all the clean-energy ideas will be waiting for money to fall in their pockets to launch the next, best clean energy solution.

I like this excerpt, which talks about the burned-out past and the bright, "it's-different-this-time" future for solar technology, complete with the Carter/Reagan anecdote, and which kind a sounds like the blurb in my blog heading, "it's not just for satellites . . ."
Sure, there was a mini-boom in solar during the 1970s following the Middle East oil crisis, but enthusiasm waned as oil prices began dropping again and the industry found itself stranded without government support. Just as quickly as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House, his successor, Ronald Reagan, ripped them down. Innovation was largely stalled during the 20 years that followed.

Experts say this time around things are different. Oil prices are rising and few expect them to fall. Electricity prices are also skyrocketing. Urban smog is getting thicker, and, well, global warming is causing people to worry. It's not as organized as getting a man on the moon, but there's a clear determination within government, industry and academia to explore the full potential of solar power as a truly competitive energy source for the 21st century.

I also really like the comparison of a "distributed-energy" solar model to when the huge computer was decentralized in the form of the personal PC. More small-scale solar on your house and fewer gargantuan, centralized fossil-fueled power plants in our backyards:
MacLellan, a former sales guy at computing giant Hewlett-Packard Corp., likes to compare the solar industry of today to the personal computer industry in 1982, just as it was teetering on the verge of greatness. Older mainframe computers are in many ways analogous to big central power plants, whether coal or nuclear. PCs, on the other hand, are similar to solar PV systems in that they brought their power to millions of individual homes and businesses. Tying those PV systems to the grid is not unlike connecting a PC to the Internet.

Finally, MacLellan, who's trying to get his higher efficiency solar panel idea funded at this conference, makes another excellent point:
"It's not about cheap solar cells, it's about cheap installation." People forget that half the cost of getting a solar pv system is the labor to install it along with the mounting equipment. That cost is even higher if the installation is a bit complicated. In other words, you save money when you install higher-powered but fewer panels. That's the model that Powerlight Corp. in Berkeley, CA follows. They don't even use metal mounting structures that tilt the panels at an angle toward the sun. Their panels are integrated into an insulating material that sits flat on the roof, avoiding all that labor to install the mounting structure. Their panels might generate less electricity not being ideally-tilted toward the sun, but the lower installation cost of their model makes the total payback time shorter.

Here we go solar, here we go . . .

--the solarDweller
Categories: , , , , , , , ,

No comments: