Week in review: Ready for Spring yet? Solar is

A solar rooftop shows the way forwardIt might be too early for the cherry blossoms to come out, but unlike in past years, the cold weather hasn’t really slowed up the solar industry. More orders have been happening and projects moving forward. For instance, SolarReserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project got the go-ahead last week (it’s been a long time coming) and the U.S. Armed Forces are moving ahead with their plans to green their energy supply. Elsewhere installations like the country’s largest at an automotive factory were completed recently. It’s showing that the industry continues to strengthen as he technology and awareness of solar continue to mature. Oh yeah, solar also shined at SuperBowl thanks to Stion.

SolarReserve’s Rice Solar Energy Project, a 150 megawatt solar thermal tower project with energy storage finally won approval from the California Public Utilities Commission last week after a new power-purchase agreement was signed with Pacific Gas and Electric. The project has been in the books since 2008, but was beleaguered with transmission and other issues that kept the company from moving forward with the project.

It wasn’t a shiny new installation on New Orleans’ Superdome completed in time for SuperBowl Sunday (maybe if it was the lights wouldn’t have gone out), but the new solar canopy Stion and Solar Alternatives installed at the Kingswood Playground in New Orleans will make sure the park is safer for kids. The installation was made as part of the Big Easy’s Super Super Saturday of Service, and it is the state’s first net-zero energy park.

Stion is a relatively recent entrant to the market with its unique thin-film photovoltaics, which are more competitive with silicon PV than many of its competitors. But researchers at Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, recently created thin-film PV cells that are 20.4 percent efficient, putting their technology on the same level as some of the most efficient silicon PV on the market. The researchers are not working with a company to bring the technology to market.

Envision Solar’s Solar Trees are taking root with a new solar forest planned in North Carolina.  An customer that requested anonymity ordered 2,300 of the company’s solar tracking units (who knows, it could be Apple or another datacenter planned for the state). The 35 megawatts of trackers is more than the company has ever built, but it will ramp up production to meet the customer’s needs.

It’s probably not Volkswagen though. The company just built out the largest PV farm for an automaker at its Chattanooga, Tenn., manufacturing plant.The 9.5 megawatt system will provide about 12.5 percent of the plant’s electric needs. Other automakers have installed solar at their manufacturing facilities in the U.S., like GM and Ford.

The U.S. Armed Forces use more energy than some countries, and most, if not all of it has come from fossil fuels. But the its trying to change that. As a matter of security and lowering energy costs, the military branches are aggressively adding in solar, wind and other clean energy sources where possible. For instance, the U.S. Army recently dedicated the largest low-concentration PV array in the world at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico recently. The 4.1 megawatt array is part of a larger solar installation at the base. To reach its goals, the Department of Defense is going to seriously up its commitment to renewables. A recent study by Navigant’s Pike Research found that to add in that much clean energy, the DOD will have to spend $1.8 billion annually on solar and other clean energy technologies. 

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