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Solar power: Can blazing demand for it be sustained?

September 15, 2014

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A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a solar concentrator that creates solar power while allowing people to see through the window. Photo by Yimu Zhao/Michigan State University

Solar power:

Sometimes a theme won’t take no for an answer; it keeps bubbling up here and there demanding to be recognized.

A couple of weeks ago, a tradesman recommended a solar-powered charger for one of my electric-powered household gadgets.  Then I came across this story about solar-powered smartphone-charging park benches.  A few blocks down from my home, an early 20th century Colonial has started sporting sun-seeking panels on its roof.

And this weekend, buzzing down the interstate, what should I behold out on the berm behind a glitzy hotel casino but an array of giant solar panels.   The notion of all of those watt-hungry slot machines whirring away with sun power is quite intriguing; casinos aren’t exactly the most eco-friendly of venues in general so if they’re getting into solar power for green or greenback motivations, it might be worth a look at other ways the energy of the sun is pervading ordinary consumer life.

According to a recent Motley Fool article based on this just-out report from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), second-quarter solar installations nationwide were up 21 percent year over year and more interestingly, for the first half of 2014, solar power accounted for more than 50 percent of all new power generation capacity, leading natural gas and wind power.  Bloomberg says demand  has been so brisk it’s driving the first shortage of solar panels since before the Great Recession.

In a recent analysis, the market research firm IBISWorld dubbed solar power one of “five industries helping to power the U.S. economy” and says that while growth will back off the smoking  70 percent annual rate of recent years, it still expects robust revenue and job creation from the industry.

Part of the reason for that is falling costs; this year-ago piece from technical journal PV Magazine said U.S. solar power costs had fallen 60 percent in the preceding 18 months; Clean Technica reported this past April that the “insane cost drop” may even have an  impact on gas and oil prices in the decade or so to come.  Certainly, the notion of electric-powered cars being fueled up at solar-powered car-charging stations will seem like a no-brainer to our descendents.

Check with architects about solar power in your area

Are there any design differences or quirks of commercial or residential structures powered by the sun?  And ask builders about demand for solar systems; here is a National Association of Home Builders piece about some considerations (aesthetics for the neighbors among them) that contractors must keep in mind when adding solar to residential complexes.  Are new  dwellings being outfitted with solar in any routine manner? And what is the demand for retrofitting of older houses?  Here’s a blog post from the Union of Concerned Scientists that says as many as 4 million houses could be equipped with solar power by 2020.  In a nation of roughly 110 million households, that’s a puny fraction, but may be encouraging to the industry and to advocates of sustainable power.  What are area electrical power utilities doing to compete?  What state legislation is afoot regarding sun power?

The SEIA offers a lot of statistics about the industry.  And a quick Google search turns up many trade publications that focus on solar power; these industry journals always are worth pursuing for story nuggets.

And just for fun, here’s a round-up of solar-powered gifty gadgets for home use.


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