Solar Optimism

The development of alternative energy has been exceedingly slow. Although we've known for decades that energy from fossil fuels, coal and nuclear were non-sustainable and carried huge costs in the forms of waste, disposal and potential risks, it seems that progress in developing affordable and efficient energy, especially solar, has been slow in coming.

Now there are reasons to be more optimistic.

Nanosolar, based in San Jose, "claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal."

Other companies, like Ausra in Palo Alto, are rethinking the way that solar energy is captured:
The difficulty is that electricity is hard to store. Batteries are not up to efficiently storing energy on a large scale. A different approach being tried by the solar power industry could eliminate the problem.

The idea is to capture the sun’s heat. Heat, unlike electric current, is something that industry knows how to store cost-effectively. For example, a coffee thermos and a laptop computer’s battery store about the same amount of energy, said John S. O’Donnell, executive vice president of a company in the solar thermal business, Ausra. The thermos costs about $5 and the laptop battery $150, he said, and “that’s why solar thermal is going to be the dominant form.”
All of this news dovetails nicely with a recent piece by Ray Kurzweil in the Washington Post, "Making the World A Billion Times Better":
Take energy. Today, 70 percent of it comes from fossil fuels, a 19th-century technology. But if we could capture just one ten-thousandth of the sunlight that falls on Earth, we could meet 100 percent of the world's energy needs using this renewable and environmentally friendly source. We can't do that now because solar panels rely on old technology, making them expensive, inefficient, heavy and hard to install. But a new generation of panels based on nanotechnology (which manipulates matter at the level of molecules) is starting to overcome these obstacles. The tipping point at which energy from solar panels will actually be less expensive than fossil fuels is only a few years away. The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years.

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