Photovoltaic costs to drop sharply

The Worldwatch Institute estimates that the cost of photovoltaic cells may drop by as much as 40% in the next few years. One factor contributing to this is the increase of manufacturing of photovoltaics in China, such as the new facility announced by Suntech, a key supplier of building integrated solar products.

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Solar hybrids

Solar Electric Vehicles make roofs for hybrid cars that charge a supplemental battery and increase the cars’ fuel efficiency by as much as 29%. Prius owners have fitted solar panels to their vehicles before, but these convex panels won’t mess with the aerodynamics as much.

Solar Electric Vehicles website

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Dye-sensitized cells- cheaper photovoltaics

Michael Gratzel has the rare honour of having a type of photovoltaic cell named after him. The Gratzel cell was first developed over 15 years ago but is now ready for manufacture and release onto the market. Technology Review talked to him about bringing the product to market.

Technology Review: Why has it been so difficult to make efficient, yet inexpensive solar cells that could compete with fossil fuels as sources of electricity?

Michael Gratzel: It’s perhaps just the way things evolved. Silicon cells were first made for [outer] space, and there was a lot of money available so the technology that was first developed was an expensive technology. The cell we have been developing on the other hand is closer to photosynthesis.

via Hugg

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Nanosolar- printed solar film

Nanosolar has developed technology to create solar panels by printing films 1/100th the thickness of absorber in a silicon-wafer cell. With the drastic cut in unit price that will come from this they hope to have a solar panel on every building.

There are issues with the lifespan of these thin film photovoltaics, and worries about toxicity of the chemicals used. If they can be answered, then this could be a huge step toward a solar future.

via Treehugger

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Solar panels on the High Street

Electrical chain Currys is to start selling photovoltaic panels in their stores. So far they’re only available in stores at West Thurrock, Fulham and Croydon. At £1000 a panel Currys say they’re charging less than some specialist firms and are touting Government grants that could cut the price by as much as 50%. It’s another important step in the Greening of the mainstream, though many people have issues with shopping at Currys for servivce level reasons.

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Holographic solar 25% more efficient

Treehugger reports on a test of a “Gen-1” holographic solar module manufactured by Prism Solar Technology. By splitting the spectrum and focussing a specific wavelength on the photovoltaics efficiency is increased. Also, passive tracking of the sun can generate more power at different times of the day. The test found output was 25% more efficient than an equivalent area of plain photovoltaic, which one commenter calculated would reduce costs from $5/watt to $4.10/watt (initial cost, rather than per watt generated).

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Solar power for the rainy town

Two Manchester solar initiatives were in the local paper today.

The council has fitted solar panels to the roofs of all 60 houses in one of the country’s most run down estates. The panels will save around £100 a year and the fact that one resident has cottoned on to his meter running backwards on a sunny day if he turns off all the appliances suggests that it might also get them cutting consumption.

The University is putting 196 solar panels on the roof of one of its new buildings. The fact that it’s the School of Sciences and the School of Environment and Development may have something to do with the decision. I have to ask, though, what’s the story behind newspapers’ obsession with translating units of electricity into their cup of tea equivalent? It would take a lot of students to drink two million cups of tea a year.

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Solar Power Grants

A bit of an info dump. I’m rounding up links for later investigation-

The Energy Savings Trust has a funding database where you can check out who’ll subsidise your move to Green energy. They also run a Solar Photovoltaic grant on behalf of the DTI with the aim of creating a long-term, sustained and viable market for solar photovoltaics.

Clear Skies is a well known scheme, which offers case studies of various projects.

The Solar Energy Alliance has a lot of solar information and gadgets as well as some stuff on wind turbines.

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Scotty Solar Charger

The Scotty solar charger, as pictured at the green guy is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and can effectively charge mobile phones, PDAs etc. It comes with adaptors for the most popular phones, a USB charger cable and two NiCad batteries which act as a charge reservoir. There’s a belt clip, which is probably impractical except that it doubles as a stand for proper orientation. I don’t know how much charging mobiles costs in electric bill terms and therefore how long it will take for the gadget to pay for itself, but the convenience on camping trips or even long days out would make it worth the money.

Charge your appliances using daylight!
A full charge from Scotty will allow 1 hour talk time or 60 hours standby!
Wear Scotty on your backpack or belt!
Scotty charges mobile phones, palm-tops, personal audio, electronic games and GPS products!
Includes connectors for Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Siemans phones
Also includes USB charger, ideal for many GPS devices and more!
Includes 2 x 600mAh Ni-Cd rechargeable batteries

The Scotty is an advanced, compact solar charger for you to collect and store FREE energy from sunshine or daylight. Scotty smart-charging technology then converts the collected energy to charge a huge range of portable appliances! Scotty uses a pair of Ni-Cd battery cells as a power reservoir and is the essential compact charger for people on the move. The unit features a charging indicator on the reverse, and the quicker this LED flashes, the fuller the batteries are charged. The supplied cables cover the vast majority of users requirements, but additional cables are available from The Scotty is charged fully in 7 hours of sunlight, and this can be as little as 5 hours if the Scotty is used regularly. A fully charged Scotty will provide a mobile phone with 1-1.5 hours talk time or up to 60 hours standby. In sunnier climates, the Scotty can be upgraded to take 1200mAh or even 1800mAh batteries, but these will obviously take longer to charge. The fitted belt clip also doubles as a fold out stand, which can be used to ensure the Scotty is positioned at an optimum angle to receive direct sunlight. The Scotty measures approximately 10cm (h) x 6.5cm (w) x 3cm (d), including the belt clip. When used for the first time, please allow the Scotty to charge for 5 days with the solar panel facing a clear sunny aspect, in order to condition the unit.

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I’m still working in the CIS tower, which now has a big display in the foyer telling us how much power the solar panels have generated and what that means in saved CO2. However, every floor has row upon row of flourescent tubes lighting it. Direct sunlight, on the rare days we get any, is blocked by blinds because it tends to shine in the eyes of those facing the windows.

Perhaps the Co-op can take another step in energy saving and have a few solar collectors on the roof, such as those by Solartech, which use parabolic mirrors to direct light into light tubes that can illuminate thousands of square feet of office space. The company needs further funding to bring their products to market. They estimate twenty times greater efficiency than converting light to power and then back again and say a system could pay for itself within two years.

via Treehugger

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Peter Hain Walks the Talk

Peter Hain, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and the secretary of state for Wales has taken advantage of a government grant to install photovoltaic panels on his constituency home.

“I decided to put my money where my mouth is. It’s not cheap.” Mr Hain and his businesswoman wife, Elizabeth Haywood, paid £8,000 – with another £8,000 coming from the grant – to place photovoltaic panels on the roof of the barn conversion they refurbished in the summer.

He hopes the investment will eventually pay for itself. Any surplus electricity generated is sold back to the national grid.

“When we are not using it, when we are away, then it generates electricity which goes back to the grid. So we save on our bills when we are at home, and when we are not at home it basically goes back to the grid and we get paid for it,” he added.

It’s also good to see that the Welsh Assembly’s attitude to nuclear is more sensible- there is not yet a case for it because energy saving and more cost effective renewable sources should be utilised first.

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Top Ten Green Energy Schemes

The Department of Trade and Industry has named ten schemes which began last year that show the way ahead in cutting carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy. They include offshore turbines in Kent, a wave buoy in Cornwall and the solar-panelling of the CIS tower in Manchester.

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