Google have been heavy investors in CSP through their RE<C programme, (Renewable Energy cheaper than Coal)
They put $168 million into Ivanpah, but whilst they continue their work in improving Solar Power Tower technology, and have published research on how costs here could be reduced still further, the dramatic decline in the cost of photovoltaics have persuaded them to put their investment in that area and they do not plan to invest further in CSP projects.
It was always going to be the case that as soon as a certain scale of manufacturing was achieved, the cost of photovoltaics and other natural energy technologies would plummet. Scale and anticipated technological improvements will now push the costs lower and lower.
Just up the road from Ivanpah are the photovoltaic arrays of the Antelope Valley, Solar Star Projects, which will be the largest solar photovoltaic project in the world, eventually producing 579 MW. That is a good number.
Photovoltaics are the other kind of solar power, and the kind most people would be more familiar with, solar cells and solar panels. They’ve been around a long time. The photovoltaic effect was first demonstrated by a budding 19 year old French physicist Edmond Becquerel as far back as 1839, the year Henry George was born.
In 1883, American inventor Charles Fritts, came up with an actual working solar cell, with an energy conversion efficiency of less than 1%. His contemporaries called him a fraud, that he claimed to be generating power without consuming matter, thus violating the laws of physics
What’s happening here is a lot more involved than using mirrors to concentrate sunlight:
Photo means light. And the whole basis of life on Earth as it is, why the Earth is suitable for the suite of life it has, rests entirely upon what green leaves have been doing for hundreds of millions of years: photosynthesis. A leaf is a solar harvester, converting sunlight into chemical energy that fuels the plant’s growth, ultimately providing the food for every living creature on Earth, except the extreme ones.
Solar photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into an electrical charge. In Photovoltaics, Sunlight excites electrons in a semi-conducting material so much that they become free, and can be made to generate an electromotive force, and hereby sunlight is converted into electrical energy.
A number of materials can be used as semiconductors, various forms of silicon and others. The explanation for exactly what’s happening here is in the realm of quantum physics and we’re not going there, but semiconductors are materials which have electrical conductivity in-between being a conductor and being an insulator, a property which makes them the foundation of electronics.
Cells containing these semiconductors are put together onto panels. The manufacturing of these panels, assembled into arrays, has grown enormously in recent years. By the end of 2012, 100 GigaWatts had been installed worldwide over at least 100 countries, and there’s a lot more coming.
This is some serious gigawattage. Despite the pessimism of many, it might turn out to be a question of which mode is going to swamp the world in abundant clean energy first. There could be huge surpluses eventually, which could be put into extracting carbon from the air.
It’s very cool that solar cells produce more electrical power when they’re played pop music. We think further research should be done in this area and would humbly offer our services.
It was a real pleasure to come across this. André Broesse, a German engineer in Barcelona with Rawlemon, has been designing, and has produced this beautiful object:
It’s a solar sphere. Their latest model of it is the Betaray. It tracks the sun across the sky and is 35% more productive than conventional dual-axis photovoltaics. It can concentrate light 10,000 times, not only sunlight, but moonlight! This is lunar power (okay, reflected solar power.) The design can actually generate electricity from moonlight. That’s going to inspire a song sometime. It will work anywhere, under cloudy skies. That’s just so beautiful.
This is Rawlemon’s little film about everything, and read more on this beautiful page here:
The Betaray is designed to be built into buildings. It looks completely portable, and downscaleable, it would make a superb paperweight. And we can imagine it scaled up, as well, some giant ones. It will be printable one day soon.
Staneb have a suggestion: the solar sphere is made of glass, but maybe the sphere idea could be combined with Skyfuel’s ReflecTechPLUS material, and make it lighter and cheaper and even more beautiful.
The ideas keep exploding. There’s some fascinating solar innovations here
In this article, Rob Wile has a figurative Solar Olympics 2014. The USA takes bronze with 5.3 GW installed, Japan take the silver with 7.5 GW, and the gold goes to China, installing 12 GW of solar power.
But to really see mass solar power in action, the place to look to is Germany, gold medallists at the previous two figurative Solar Olympics, so they’ve already got plenty installed and basking.
No brochure has ever exhorted tourists to Come to Sunny Germany, yet this is where natural energy technologies are really, finally, coming into their undeniable own. The pie really is not in the sky, it’s in Germany.
Germany has been hailed as the world's first major renewable energy economy. They have set a course to become the first industrial power to generate 100% of its energy from renewables. Currently, just over 25% of electricity supply comes from natural energy (more than from their nuclear plants), and by end 2011, Germany had installed about 66 GW of renewable energy.
May 25, 2012 was a big day for solar power, which supplied 22GW into the German power grid, equivalent to 20 medium-sized nuclear plants. On this day, for the first time ever, 50% of the midday electricity demand of one of the world’s foremost industrial nations was being provided by solar power.
This is the kind of thing to be seen in Germany:
This is a stark comparison with what is still the UK’s basic stance towards natural energy. All this looks expensive, but in fact it’s very cheap before long; just as what has always seemed cheap was actually hugely expensive in the end; hugely.
Germany is acting with great decision. The situation is that, at the moment, Germany has high electricity costs; but they would seem to understand fully well that if they stick with it, their vision will be rewarded with spectacular returns, and the country will be clean and the air sweet. And when Germany has been through this process, they will stand as a bright beacon to their neighbours, and the whole suite of technologies will bound forward and become much cheaper still. It is an act of great courage, but on the other hand, to not so act is great foolishness. It’s the grossest negligence not to follow Germany’s lead. And Uruguay's.
And if these pioneering countries want to take a great leap forward in what they're doing, they've got to investigate Kitegen.