Week in Review: Solar shining into the holiday season

The promise of renewable energyThe holiday season is officially underway, following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and now, Cyber Monday. What does that mean for solar and renewables? Not much, but they’re steaming ahead on their own. And, in fact, there was a lot of winning going on last week.

For instance, First Solar was named as the most sustainable PV manufacturer by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which recently released its annual PV Sustainable Growth Index. The rating agency said that First Solar made numerous advances, including strong revenue and a focus on executing projects. The report also said that the solar manufacturing space is really starting to shake out as top tier companies look stronger versus other weaker firms which are more likely to fail.

Another big winner recently was SolarReserve and its partners in South Africa, the Kensani Group and Intikon. The group closed on $564 million in financing, which will allow SolarReserve to move forward on two, 75 megawatt photovoltaic farms in South Africa. The Letsatsi Project will be in South Africa’s Free State and the Lesedi Project in its Northern Cape.

Borrego Solar announced that it is among the pre-qualified solar installers approved by the Department of Energy to install solar on federal projects. The company anticipates that the approval will help it greatly expand its business, since the federal government and the Department of Defense are building out 100s of megawatts of solar.

Georgia (the state) will start to see solar take off more rapidly now that the Georgia Public Service Commission approved Georgia Power Co.’s plan to add 210 megawatts of solar. The company plans to add 90 megawatts of solar each year from 2013 to 2015. The program is an entirely voluntary program and it shows that utility companies are increasingly seeing solar as a cost-effective energy source. Georgia Power also is taking an approach that received praise from solar associations for its plans to incorporate large amounts of distributed solar as opposed to giant solar projects.

On the technology side of solar, Rice University has developed a new way of making steam from solar by vaporizing water instantly. Researchers at the university are using nanoparticles that superheat water into steam—even if frozen—when the sun hits them. The device they are developing would be a small-scale concentrating solar dish, could be used in developing countries to clean drinking water and sterilize medical instruments.

Stion won $2 million through the Department of Energy’s SunShot Incubator 7 program. The incubator program is designed to help companies with potentially disruptive solar energy technologies that could reduce the cost of solar energy. In this case, Stion was awarded the funding to pursue commercial production of its tandem copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) thin-film photovoltaic modules. The technology is already producing prototype modules that are 18.8 percent efficient at converting sunlight to energy. Another winner in the round was AmberWave, which won $1 million to pursue its devices which could reduce the amount of silicon used in crystalline PV by up to 90 percent.

Clarum Communities won the United States Green Building Council’s production builder of the year award for its Cambridge Plaza  condominium development in Palo Alto, Calif. The company won the award for making the condos run purely on electricity and incorporating solar energy and hot water. The photovoltaics and solar hot water system on each of the condos powers about 50 of their energy needs, according to the company. The awards were announced at the USGBC's annual meeting last week in California

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