Chris Meehan
APR 25, 2011

The solar industry is looking hotter than ever. From government to private sector to research and development, the industry is showing more signs of maturation than ever before.
Perhaps most telling is the level of non-governmental investments in the solar industry in the first quarter of 2011. Total non-Chinese investments in the solar industry rose to $2.1 billion in credit and debt funding almost equivalent to the $2.2 billion invested in the industry throughout the whole of 2010, according to a new Mercom Capital Group, LLC. report. The Bank of China invested $7.6 billion. Venture capital investments in solar in the first quarter of 2011, at $658 million, more than doubled the $311 million in such investments in the first quarter of 2010.
Companies and universities are quickly coming out with new solar technologies. For instance, Boeing’s Spectrolab will soon produce larger versions of its high-efficiency, Germanium-based photovoltaic cells for concentrated solar photovoltaic devices.
The University of Houston unveiled its mobile SPACE photovoltaic generators last week. The devices are designed for multiple purposes, but most importantly for disaster recovery. They use a unique fold-up solar array attached to the top of a recycled shipping container and can be used as a mobile communication hub, or medical center for instance.
A lot of news of late has focused on new solar technologies that replicate photosynthesis, but the University of Michigan is developing an even more intriguing method of capturing the sun’s energy, by using its magnetic radiation rather than its light radiation. The research could yield a less expensive solar device without semiconducting materials.
There’s still work to be done on integration of what’s called traditional solar, however, to make it a more reliable energy source, said scientists and business leaders. One of the most daunting challenges is storing excess energy produced by photovoltaics and wind. At the Global New Energy Summit in Colorado Springs, Colo., renewable energy thought leaders looked to integrating technologies to create better energy solutions.
That type of innovation will require research that will still necessitate some governmental support, Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said during a keynote at the summit. He attributed the precipitous drop in the cost of solar to such investments and said such investments help private companies bring new technologies to market as they mature.
For a long time, the value that a photovoltaic system adds to a home has been debatable, with some saying that it doesn’t add value at time of sale. But a new comprehensive study found that a solar array adds an average $17,000 of value to the price tag of a home. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study looked at the sale of homes with photovoltaics in California and compared them to similar homes without photovoltaics.
Maybe that’s why companies like Del Webb are building new homes with solar arrays included. And the company said it’s able to offer the homes with solar at no additional cost—maybe that’s because its building 11,200 of them.
More than ever, places are competing for new solar manufacturing as well. General Electric’s recently announced plans for its new 400 megawatt module production facility has raised the interests of states, including Colorado, Arizona, New York and Oregon. The plant would bring roughly 400 jobs and cost about $600 million to build.
And Ontario‘s generous feed-in tariff locally manufactured photovoltaics made it an ideal location for Uni-Solar’s new manufacturing plant.

Solar Industry Still Blooming in Final Weeks of April

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