Thursday, March 28, 2013

Solar Energy - Coming Soon To a Utility Near You

Forbes recently published an article online about Google’s investment in renewable energy.  The article states that the reasons Google is investing in solar, wind and other renewable energy opportunities have little or nothing to do with their wish to do good in the world.   

Rather, Google is investing in renewable energy because they believe that renewable energy will reap rewards, from a financial perspective.
This is a big thing.
For someone like me, who’s been involved in the renewable energy area for well something like 20 years now, this is very welcome news indeed.  For a long time we had heard that was just impossible to get solar to a point where it was financially viable without financial incentives (usually from the government).   However, in the near future, incentives may not be necessary.
The Forbes article (which you can find here:  ) provides a lot of interesting data.  For instance, the article states that "Solar panels have dropped in price by 80% over the last five years." And that "49% of the new capacity commissioned in the in U.S. in 2012 was renewable.”
I also happen to have some contacts in major utilities.  From these contacts I have learned that there is a tremendous expectation that solar will drop in price to the point where it will be price competitive with fossil fuels by the end of this decade (due to a combination of decreases in solar costs and expected increases in the costs of traditional fuels).
When I first heard that a few months ago, that seemed to be to be a very startling statement.
But, apparently, a combination of Clinton/Bush/Obama money, research and time have conspired (in a good way) to result in a major shift in the economics of the technology. 
I decided to check out this data and found some interesting information.  There are a number of ways you can cook the books (so to speak) and a number of ways to consider data reflecting the cost of solar (e.g., installed costs of residential and/or industrial at various energy levels, levelized cost of electricity, etc.).  In checking out these facts, though, I discovered that, overall, the message appears to be right -- solar costs are dropping dramatically and the use of solar in the US is rising.  Check out the charts I prepared, using data from Arizona State University and the US Department of Energy:

This is great news -- but there are still issues associated with adopting renewables, in particular solar and wind. 
Probably the biggest hurdle is the fact that the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow.  During those times, electricity will need to be obtained in some other way, probably generated by some form of fossil fuels. 
That is, unless an economical method of energy storage can be found so that excess energy created by solar and wind can be stored for use at night and/or during calm weather.
This is where we come in. 
Battery technologies are over hundred years old.  While some technologies (computer data storage for example) have improved hundreds of times just in the past couple of decades, energy storage in batteries has improved only 8 to 10 times in nearly a century.
And, an often quoted benchmark of $250/kWh still seems unattainable considering what’s currently available, even with the tremendous advances in lithium ion and other battery technologies.
We are gaining on it, though. 
The advances we've (i.e., Enable IPC and our subsidiary, SolRayo) seen in our research have been both encouraging and tremendously exciting.  The use of inexpensive nanoparticles, combined with some very innovative ways to access and combine the best features of ultracapacitors and advanced batteries are showing that they could very well be a large part of the answer we've all been looking for. 
We've been at this for over 8 years, and things seem to be coming together in an exciting way.
Stay tuned -- we are very excited about what the next few months will bring.


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