Week in review: Solar continues to grow, find new applications

A solar canopy

Even as winter takes hold across the northern hemisphere, solar has continued to grow. This is evidenced by solar companies joining the ranks of highest job creators in the U.S. Meanwhile, some are already predicting a sunny year for residential solar in 2013. Elsewhere solar continues to be used in more novel applications, like recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy and to power the first PV plane’s flight around the world.

 

For the first time Inc. Magazine held its ‘Hire Power Awards’ recognizing companies that created the most jobs in the U.S. in the past few years. In fact, one company, SolarCity, was among the top 10 of all new jobs creators in the U.S. The magazine reported that SolarCity had 1,381 employees and has created 989 jobs over the past three years. The awards also recognized the top 10 jobs creators in the energy sector. Five solar companies, including SolarCity, were among the Top 10 in that sector. The other solar companies in the list were Solectria Renewables, Trinity Solar, Verengo Solar and Xtreme Power.

Given that three of the companies on the list are residential solar installers it should be no surprise that some anticipate a busy year in the residential solar industry. In a new report Sunrun anticipated that residential solar will grow significantly in 2013, particularly among the middle class, a segment in California, which has grown 445 percent since 2007, according to Sunrun. The company conducted a post-election survey and found that even among Republican voters solar was popular. The report found that 92 percent of Americans agree that the U.S. needs to develop more solar.

Solar continues to show its flexibility. For instance, solar is being used to help with the recovery efforts in New Jersey and New York through the Solar Sandy Project. Already five photovoltaic generators are deployed in areas where the grid hasn’t yet reestablished power, helping people with essential services like recharging phones, laptops, and power tools and critical equipment.

Solar-powered EV chargers are also gaining more traction. General Motors partnered with Envision Solar to bring its Solar Trees to Cadillac dealerships in the U.S. Under the new partnership, it installed it’s first Solar Tree at the Fremont Cadillac Buick GMC dealership in California. With the Envision Solar Trees, the dealership will have six electric vehicle charging stations. The chargers are being installed in preparation of its plug-in ELR, which is expected to be introduced in late 2013.

While solar carports and generators are unique applications of solar, there’s probably no more unique application of photovoltaics than Solar Impulse, the PV-powered airplane that’s planning an international circumnavigation in the next few years. The plane and its makers were recently featured on 60 Minutes where they discussed what's next for the unique and groundbreaking aircraft.

Still, it’s not all sunny skies for solar. In the U.S.’s biggest market, California, a new report from the state’s Little Hoover Commission warns that the there’s too much confusion in the state’s permitting for wind, solar and other renewable energy resources. It warns that too many agencies are involved in the permitting of renewables, and that unless the way they are permitted changes, it could lead to ratepayers paying higher costs for the electricity than they otherwise would have.

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