Reviewing last week's solar energy news

Reviewing last week's solar energy news Some big things happened in solar last week, including Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear generation in favor of solar and wind. Meanwhile, the U.S. took steps to reduce the one area of solar that hasn’t been falling in cost: permitting. And, on the lighter side, solar saw a new celebrity/sports endorsement, and solar got sexier with swimwear.

Germany’s announcement that it would replace all of its nuclear generation with renewable generation by 2022 sent solar stocks up. The news provided the solar industry with some much needed confidence that the European market will continue to remain viable for the solar industry.

One of the things that has helped Germany become the world’s leader in solar is standardized permitting and low soft costs. That hasn’t been the case in the U.S., where such costs have remained high, and permitting and related costs can comprise 40 percent of a system’s costs in some places. The Department of Energy is now aiming to reduce those costs with a new, $27 million round of SunShot Initiative financing. It’s offering local governments the funding to develop standardized permitting across regions and lowered permitting costs.

Just prior to the DOE announcement, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) introduced the 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2011, which would provide funding for such a project. And his home state of Vermont already has a leg up reducing those costs.

The state recently ended the practice of charging permitting costs for small-scale solar. The state now has a solar registration program, allowing home and business owners that want to install photovoltaic systems of 5 kilowatts or less to register their arrays online. Utilities and the state then have 10 days to contend the system.

For the first time, Florida customers of Florida Power & Light can qualify for rebates from the utility. Residents can qualify for up to $2,000 in rebates from the utility, but funds are expected to be depleted quickly. The utility will spend $15.5 million on the program in 2011 and will authorize up to $15.5 million each year through 2014.

In lighter solar news, Patrick Dempsey’s Patrick Dempsey Racing Team signed Trina Solar Ltd. (NYSE: TSL) as a new sponsor for his GRAND-AM professional race car team. Under the sponsorship, the race car driver and Grey’s Anatomy star, will do public relations and develop a solar charity initiative, which has yet to be named.

Think solar is slim and sexy? It just got hotter. Last week, New York-based designer Andrew Schneider introduced the world to the solar bikini. The bikini is made of flexible photovoltaics. The device has a USB-connector and can charge devices like a phone or iPod. Guys, don’t worry, Schneider is also developing swim trunks that can cool a beer.

The attacks at Pearl Harbor led the U.S. into World War II. Now maybe it will lead the U.S. to more solar power. The Department of Defense installed a 2.4 megawatt solar array on the roofs of military buildings at the base. Five roofs at the combined Navy and Air Force base now known as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are covered with SolarWorld panels that were made in Oregon.

We always consider Texas an oil state. But it’s got a lot of renewable resources and has put at least some of them to good use. And it’s adding more. Last week, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said it will install solar at 17 to 18 of its facilities around the state. Some facilities’ planned arrays will produce up to 10 percent of the energy used. Others will produce less.

Image courtesy of NREL.