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Solyndra Failed, But 119 Other Solar Companies and 100,000 Solar Workers Are Succeeding

Anyone who has spent time in Silicon Valley knows that for every Google or Apple, there are scores of companies whose names fade into oblivion. Creating transformative technology is no easy task, and success always has failure in its wake. Indeed, venture capital firms expect just one in ten of the companies they invest in to prosper.

Solyndra is one of those companies that didn’t make the cut. It was trying to create cheaper solar technology, but couldn’t achieve that vision and ultimately lost out in the very competitive solar marketplace.

Solyndra accepted taxpayers’ money, and if there was wrongdoing involved, those responsible must be held to account.

But some lawmakers haven’t stopped there. They have seized on Solyndra’s demise as an opportunity to thwart both the Department of Energy’s loan program and the entire renewable energy sector.

The truth is Solyndra was just 1 of 40 recipients of Department of Energy loan guarantees. It represents only 2.9 percent of the DOE’s renewable energy loan portfolio. And as the New York Times recently reported, plenty of GOP leaders who are now complaining about Solyndra and the clean energy loan program have in the past lobbied hard to secure federal money for clean energy projects in their own districts.

I understand why these lawmakers would want to support clean energy in the communities they represent: it’s one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy. But when they turn around and bash those same programs that benefit them, you know it is politically motivated.

And while they may find fault in the government’s lack of due diligence on Solyndra, the Department of Energy wasn’t the only one who made a bad bet on the company. Just 18 months ago, the Wall Street Journal ranked the company as number 5 in its list of Top 50 Venture-Backed Companies. The company’s private investors included KKR, Argonaut, CMWA, Masdar, Redpoint, and RockPort. Yet their inability to catch the warning signs hasn’t inspired lawmakers’ cries to reexamine private investment and shut down venture capital firms.

Meanwhile, the other 119 PV solar companies in America are thriving and the sector as a whole is booming:  

  • Solar capacity has had annual growth rates topping 45 percent every single year since 2005.
  • Last year it doubled and for the first half of 2011, has grown 72 percent compared to the previous year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association
  • The price of a solar array has fallen by 42 percent since December, 2010, driven by a combination of market forces and government incentives.
  • About 100,000 Americans now work in the solar power and solar heating industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

PV innovators are just one part of a much larger solar value chain, a chain that many U.S. companies are dominating. American companies lead the way in selling silicon, machining, tooling, creating components like inverters, and installing solar systems. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) recently published areport showing that the U.S. is a net exporter of solar energy products across the entire value chain, adding $1.9 billion in value to the U.S. economy last year.  This also includes a trade surplus in China.

As my colleague Nathanael Greene points out, the best way for America to maintain a place at the forefront of the clean energy market is not to compete on turf already dominated by other nations. Instead, we should leverage what America does best: innovate new technologies and build new companies.

That will require taking risks and inviting failure. But America industry didn’t grow strong by playing it safe. From Edison on down, our inventors have all made bold choices. After he invented the Model T, William Ford famously said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

Misconduct and the unlawful use of taxpayers’ money are unacceptable. But attacking clean energy programs is attacking one of the greatest engines of economic growth in our economy right now and undermining American jobs when we need them the most.

 
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Inhabitat’s Week in Green: electric airplanes, CO2-storing bricks and solar-powered bags

Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

This week green architecture boldly went where no buildings have gone before as Inhabitat reported on Jordan's plans for a $1.5 billion Star Trek theme park that will be powered by alternative energy. We also showcased plans for a spiraling self-sufficient skyscraper that generates its own water, food, and power, and we took a first look at a shimmering office complex in India crowned with a digital eye. Meanwhile, GE launched a shining solar-powered carousel in Manhattan and a team of researchers developed a new breed of CO2-storing bricks that are 2.5 times stronger than concrete.

In other news, high-flying green vehicles charted the horizon as Pipistrel introduced the world's most powerful electric airplane and an incredible human-powered helicopter broke a world record. We also saw Ohio State unveil plans for the 400 MPH Buckeye Bullet 3 and we showcased designs for a stunning concept car with a segmented transforming skin. Autonomous vehicles were a hot topic as well -- London's Heathrow airport rolled out a set of electric personal transportation pods, and China's Hongqui unveiled a driverless car to compete with Google's vehicle (which crashed this week).

It was also a big week for wearable technology as researchers developed new breed of stick-on tattoos that can track body functions and we took a look at a sonic fabric bag made from recycled audio tapes. Finally, we got set for the start of the academic year by bringing you six of the best solar-powered bags, an innovative new breed of e-paper that doesn't require electricity, and we launched a blowout back to school contest where you could win $1155 in green school supplies -- including a photovoltaic backpack and a HP Pavilion laptop.

Inhabitat's Week in Green: electric airplanes, CO2-storing bricks and solar-powered bags originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 14 Aug 2011 21:33:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Caltech researchers devise acoustic diode that sends sound one-way, could harvest energy

Sound has this habit of traveling in more than one direction -- useful in most circumstances, but not so welcome when a person in one room is looking for a little peace and quiet while someone in the next is blasting music. Sound-proofing is one solution to that problem, but some researchers at Caltech say they've now come up with a better one: an acoustic diode that can be tuned to allow sound to pass through in only one direction. As you might expect, however, that's all still very much in the early stages, but the researchers say the technology could eventually could eventually allow for "true soundproofing," or even be used for other purposes, like scavenging sound energy from structural vibrations and turning that into electricity. The official announcement with some of the finer details is after the break, and the researchers' full paper is published in the July 24th issue of Nature Materials.

Continue reading Caltech researchers devise acoustic diode that sends sound one-way, could harvest energy

Caltech researchers devise acoustic diode that sends sound one-way, could harvest energy originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 29 Jul 2011 02:31:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Select IKEA stores to host Blink electric vehicle charging stations, Volts now suitable for furniture pickup

Need to pick up a foursome of Detolf display cases? Better know a pal with a pickup, bub. Unless, of course, your nearest IKEA happens to be one of ten situated in Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. The famed furniture retailer has just nailed down a partnership with ECOtality, with a smattering of its western US stores to host Blink electric vehicle charging stations. Each of the sites be evaluated for feasibility and installation needs, and we're told that the first stations should become operational this fall. The pilot program is currently set to last through December of 2012, but we're guessing it'll end up surviving quite a bit longer -- after all, it was already tough enough to resist a weekly trip to this place. Now? Swedish meatballs just become a daily affair.

Continue reading Select IKEA stores to host Blink electric vehicle charging stations, Volts now suitable for furniture pickup

Select IKEA stores to host Blink electric vehicle charging stations, Volts now suitable for furniture pickup originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 14 Jul 2011 05:24:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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MIT researchers revolutionize solar cell printing, fold the power of the sun into your everyday home (video)

Wouldn't it be neat if you could power a few gadgets around the house with some tastefully chosen, solar cell-embedded curtains? Alright, so this MIT-pioneered tech's not quite that advanced yet, but it's destined to have a Martha Stewart Living future. By eschewing liquids and high temperatures for gentler vapors kept below 120 degrees Celsius, researchers were able to cheaply print an array of photovoltaic cells on "ordinary untreated paper, cloth or plastic." And here's some additional food for thought -- the vapor-deposition process used to create these cells is the same as the one that puts that "silvery lining in your bag of potato chips" -- science, it's everywhere. Despite the tech's home furnishing friendly approach, this breakthrough printing technique can't be done with your everyday inkjet, but it will make the cost of solar energy installations a bit cozier. Its flexible durability aside, the cells currently operate at only one percent efficiency -- so you might want to buy those drapes in bulk to see a real bottom line kickback. Foldable paper video demonstration after the break.

Continue reading MIT researchers revolutionize solar cell printing, fold the power of the sun into your everyday home (video)

MIT researchers revolutionize solar cell printing, fold the power of the sun into your everyday home (video) originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 12 Jul 2011 23:54:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Bill Gates calls rooftop solar “cute”

In an interview with Wired Magazine, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates talks about work being done to meet the world’s energy needs.  The wide ranging talk covers the public safety issues of power generation (including coal and nuclear plants) as well as the economics and politics of energy.

Mr. Gates dismisses rooftop solar as “cute” – a deep insult in the nerd-world implying that it’s not a serious solution.  He suggests that the only practical use of solar energy would be in large desert installations and points out that there’s a problem with generation during the nighttime periods:

I think people deeply underestimate what a huge problem this day-night issue is if you’re trying to design an energy system involving solar technology that’s more than just a hobby. You know, the sun shines during the day, and people turn their air conditioners on during the day, so you can catch some of that peaking load, particularly if you get enough subsidies. It’s cute, you know, it’s nice. But the economics are so, so far from making sense.

Again with the geek insults, in the tech world “hobby” is another cut saying it’s not a practical endeavor.  In reality rooftop solar makes economic sense even now in parts of the world with expensive electricity like California and Japan.  Because I saved money by installing my rooftop PV system myself, I’m already at “grid parity” (the cost to generate electricity is the same as the cost to buy it from the utility) so I’m not spending one extra dime to harness the sun’s power and reduce my carbon footprint.

Of course, Mr. Gates is coming for a biased perspective: he’s a major investor in a company that’s promoting a new type of nuclear reactor.  It’s a bit harder to be impartial about a race when you’ve got money riding on one of the horses.

In reality, there are currently two different solutions to the day/night problem with power generation.  In large-scale desert solar installations, mirrors are used to focus the sun’s light onto a collector.  Rather than create electricity directly as in a photovoltaic system, the power is used to heat a liquid in an enclosed system.  That liquid (usually molten salt) is then used to heat water and spin turbines to produce electricity.  To spread out the power generation over 24 hours, the molten salt can be stored in large tanks for use during the nighttime.

Another method for taking excess power generation and banking it for later use is gravitational storage.  Also referred to as Pumped-storage Hydroelectricity, the system takes electrical power and uses it to pump water uphill into a holding pond.  When more power is needed,  the water is released downhill through a turbine generator.  This works just like a hydroelectric dam except that instead of harnessing a river, water is actually pumped uphill to fill the reservoir.  (Yes, it sounds odd but this technique is in use today to balance loads on the electrical grid)

While solar power is still improving, it’s already a practical means of electrical generation and one of the least harmful to the environment.  Local rooftop microgeneration is a practical, reliable and cost effective way of meeting our increasing power needs while lowering our impact upon the environment.

Click here to read the full article in Wired Magazine.

 

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Oregon engineers roll out cheaper, less wasteful solar cells with inkjet printer

Oregon engineers roll out cheaper, less wasteful solar cells with inkjet printer It looks like the push to turn the inkjet printer into the next great manufacturer of solar cells has found another proponent in a team of engineers at Oregon State University. That group of resourceful researchers claims to have created the world's first "CIGS solar devices with inkjet printing," thus giving birth to a new production process that reduces raw material waste by 90 percent. CIGS (an acronym for copper, indium, gallium, and selenium) is a highly absorbent and efficient compound, especially suited to creating thin-film solar cells. The team has used inkjet technology to pump out a CIGS ink with an efficiency of five percent, and a potential efficiency of 12 percent; apparently enough to produce a "commercially viable solar cell." Unfortunately, the group has yet to announce plans to bring the ink to our desktop printer -- so much for that backyard solar farm. Full PR after the break.

Continue reading Oregon engineers roll out cheaper, less wasteful solar cells with inkjet printer

Oregon engineers roll out cheaper, less wasteful solar cells with inkjet printer originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 29 Jun 2011 01:18:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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California raceway gets 1,600 solar panels, flaunts green track status

As far as sports go, the one where you drive cars around in circles several times is likely not one of the most energy efficient. With that in mind, it's nice to see locations like Northern California's Infineon Raceway working toward sustainability, announcing this week the installation of more than 1,600 solar panels. The panels, manufactured by Panasonic, will provide around 41-percent of the Infineon's energy usage. Also on its list of earth-friendly features: a solar-powered billboard and 3,000 sheep, which take care of a lot of the lawn mowing on the grounds and apparently aren't of the electric variety.

Continue reading California raceway gets 1,600 solar panels, flaunts green track status

California raceway gets 1,600 solar panels, flaunts green track status originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 28 Jun 2011 05:06:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Pininfarina’s stunning tree-shaped Antares EV charging station should be more than a prototype

Despite being first showcased in May, Pininfarina's Antares has just slipped across our desks -- and frankly, it's a concept too gorgeous for us not to share. The beautiful tree-like structure -- comprised of steel and aluminum -- supports 20 photovoltaic cells, which the Italians reckon can produce up to 4.6 kilowatts, or just about enough juice to top up two fifty-mile range EVs. That's the plan anyway; we'll supposedly know more later this year, but given Pininfarina's past EV efforts, maybe not. Either way, consider this our formal pre-order request for two -- they'd look perfect right outside Engadget HQ.

Pininfarina's stunning tree-shaped Antares EV charging station should be more than a prototype originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 22 Jun 2011 05:24:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Thin film coating makes everlasting energy a piezoelectric possibility

Let's be honest, it's no big secret that we're running out of dead dinosaurs to fuel our lives. And with recent natural catastrophes proving atomic energy isn't what you'd call 'safe,' it's a good thing the researchers down at the RMIT University in Melbourne have been hard at work figuring out how to turn you into a self-sustained energy source. Marrying piezoelectrics with a thin film microchip coating, those scientists Down Under have for the first time identified just how much energy your pressure can generate. This is certainly not the first time the tech has been put to use -- Orange UK's been doing something similar, albeit bulkier, for the Glastonbury fest each year. What are some practical uses, you ask? Imagine a gym powered by a sea of workout-hamsters, each producing significant energy from the soles of their feet. Curious for more? Try a pacemaker that runs solely on blood pressure, or a laptop charged by banging out Facebook updates. Who knows, maybe even RIM can put this to use in its next Storm. Just sayin'.

Thin film coating makes everlasting energy a piezoelectric possibility originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 22 Jun 2011 02:16:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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