Solar installations will not make up for electric power generation
capacity stresses in the immediate term, though installers I’ve spoken
with report healthy upticks in new orders. With fossil-fuel inventory availability, generation capacity, and price volatility continuing to
affect non-renewable generation negatively, distributed generation, and
solar in particular, are increasingly attractive for several reasons.
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As installed capacity ramps up, solar generation will
help mitigate peak demand and reduce generation PARs.
Because it provides distributed generation, small-scale
solar serves the same purpose for distribution grids and
can reflect that benefit back onto transmission networks
when solar adoption rates reach sufficient levels.
While fossil-fuel prices are soaring and availability is
growing less reliable, solar energy fuel costs are highly
predictable, free. Enormous quantities of the non-pol-luting solar fuel arrives fresh daily with no transportation costs or logistical complexities.
With few exceptions, such as in architecturally historic districts and the entire state of Florida, residential
and small-scale commercial solar installations face low
bureaucratic impedances to siting and permitting. Low
system costs and short installation sequences minimize
financial risk. Systems readily scale from single-family
residences to office parks, allowing the industry to take
advantage of economies of scale for key components.
Although the most advanced photo voltaic (PV) cell
technologies reach commercialization slowly, parallel
improvements to manufacturing-process methods have
been effective in reducing panel costs and increasing
efficiencies (figure 2). For example, poly-Si PV-wafer
manufacturer’s costs have fallen to about $0.20/W —
roughly one third of what they were six years ago.
Recently, Michigan State University researchers
developed a transparent luminescent solar concentrator
(TLSC), which absorbs certain wavelengths of light. According to Richard Lunt, an assistant professor, a TLSC
can “pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared
wavelengths that then glow at another wavelength in
the infrared.” The TLSC guides the glowing infrared
energy to the edge of the material, where narrow strip-shaped PV-cells convert the energy into electricity.
An important attribute of the TLSC is that it is transparent in the visible spectrum without color artifacts.
This allows manufacturers to laminate TLSCs to win-
dows, cell-phone screens or any other clear material.
Lunt reports, “It can be used on tall buildings with lots
of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic
quality like a phone or e-reader.” When commercialized, the TLSC can
greatly increase the surface area available to residential and commercial
building owners for solar power generation and do so with no visual
While fossil-fuel prices are soaring and availability
is growing less reliable, solar energy fuel costs are
highly predictable, free.