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Hello, Sunshine!

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Link suite overview on solar scale up: better tech, lower costs, variety, better batteries and bottle bulbs

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The shades may have been drawn on Solyndra, but the sun still shines on solar. Despite Big Carbon’s industry front group-funded campaign to sell us on a fossil-fueled future, solar is going mainstream fast. Even heads deeply buried in tar sands can sense the shift.

There is no “one” solar answer. Solar comes in all shapes and sizes: from rooftop panels and peel-and-stick window film, to boats and backpacks, solar “ivy” and solar “leaves,”  giant concentrated solar arrays and recycled plastic bottles. Almost daily there is news of improved efficiency, better batteries and more products available off-the-shelf.

Costs are tumbling, too—and not just because the Chinese have heavily subsidized the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, undercutting everyone else in the market. Solar, finally, is enjoying the benefits of scaling up.

This year, the Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon saw home construction costs come in third cheaper than in 2009. The expense and learning curve of prototypes has  given way to the savings of lessons learned.

There are also more jobs—and better-paying local jobs, too—in installation than in manufacturing, lessening the sting of market share  loss to China. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, groups such as the Make It Right Foundation created “a teachable moment,” to train builders and appliance installers to work with greener technologies. Even the cleanest of coal (energy’s reigning oxymoron) cannot compete against a smartly designed solar home whose monthly electric bill comes in under $30.

It is that kind of bargain-happy free market decision-making that has Chevron—yes, Chevron—scrapping pricey natural gas in favor of a concentrated solar power (CSP) array to heat water for steam to to make heavy crude oil thin enough to pump: new sun to mine ancient sun. Beyond the obvious irony, this promises to quickly ramp up into a multi-billion dollar business.

Elsewhere, vast arrays of photo voltaic panels are sprouting everywhere, from  a capped garbage dump turned “energy park,” to a Victorian-era London bridge. Both are pilot projects, but expect many more to follow. There are an estimated 100,000 aging landfills in the US prime for PV.

Cutting right to the chase—no power generation required—in the Philippines, soda bottles are being recycled into 55 watt wireless lights through an ingenious design courtesy of MIT’s D-Lab. “Bottle bulbs” inserted into tin roofs bring free daylight into otherwise dark interiors, reducing the need—and expense—of air-fouling kerosene.

So let there be light! And power. And cheaper energy. And a cleaner planet, too.

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Hello, Sunshine ranks among one of the larger TrackerNews link suites, with more than 40 stories. Among the highlights:

(All links on the aggregator become part of the TrackerNews searchable database.)

LEDs Will Light the Way

LED There Be Light

CFLs (compact florescent light bulbs) may have become the symbol for greener lighting over the last couple of years, but  LEDs — those ubiquitous light emitting diodes on everything from digital alarm clocks to laptops — are poised for a global come-from-behind take-over. The key stumbling point has always been the cost the production. That’s about to change.

LEDs  use only a tiny fraction of the energy needed by florescents and can last a decade or longer, but manufacturing complications require the use of sapphire, a rare and expensive material. Now research at the University of Cambridge promises a super-cheap alternative. Once that pesky little problem is solved, CFLs — and their inconveniently un-green mercury residues — will soon go the way of….incandescents.

(The EPA’s clean up guidelines for broken CFLs are Hazmat-thorough and energy intensive, which begs the question why anyone living in an earthquake-prone area, or with young children in the house, would want to use them.)

Despite high costs, though, there is strong and growing demand for these energy-miser bulbs both the developing world where the electric grid has yet to reach, and in the developed world where grid-liberation is the goal.

SOURCES & STORIES

Below is a round-up of links that have been featured on the TrackerNews site:

  • Light Up the World Foundation: Started by University of Calgary professor Dave Irvine-Halliday, LUWF has pioneered the installation of LED lighting units in the developing world that are powered by renewable sources (solar, wind, even pedal power). The goal is two-fold: bring light to some of the 2 billion people without electricity and provide an alternative to smokey, dangerous, ineffective kerosene lamps. “The Man Who Lit Up the Mountains” is a short video about LUWF and its first project in Nepal.