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US Solar Industry

Other Nations' Policies

Project: US Solar Industry
Open-Content project managed by matt, Derek, KJF, mtuck

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The US’s Vanguard I space satellite uses a small solar array, generating less than one watt, to power its radios. Later that same year, the Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 satellites all use PV-powered systems (see 1956-1958) to power its systems. While commercial uses for solar energy in the United States (see 1955) is less than successful during this period, silicon solar cells become a mainstay of satellites and subsequent space exploration vehicles. In 1962, Bell Telephone Laboratories launches the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. This satellite generates 14 watts of electricity via its PV cells. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, Silicon Technology, US Policies

1963: Japan Installs Huge PV Array on Lighthouse

Japan installs a 242-watt, photovoltaic array on a lighthouse. It is at the time the world’s largest array. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

1969: France Builds Odeilo Solar Furnace

Odeilo Solar Furnace.Odeilo Solar Furnace. [Source: Gizmodo]France builds the Odeilo Solar Furnace, located in the Pyrenees Mountains. It has an eight-story stack of some 10,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight into a large concave hemisphere to focus the energy—so-called “lensing technology.” Temperatures in the hemisphere can reach up to 6,300°F. The energy generates electricity via a steam turbine, and is later used for making hydrogen fuel, testing reentry materials for space vehicles, and performing high-temperature metallurgic experiments. Its extraordinary heat generation allows for the production of carbon nanotubes and zinc nanoparticles via solar induced sublimation. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Gizmodo, 7/26/2011]

Entity Tags: Odeilo Solar Furnace

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Other Nations' Policies

France installs a cadmium sulfide (CdS) photovoltaic system to operate an educational television station at a village school in Niger. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

The German auto manufacturer Volkswagen begins testing solar-power arrays mounted on the roof of its Dasher station wagons. The system powers the car’s ignition system. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Volkswagen

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, Commercial Involvement

Australian Hans Tholstrup drives the world’s first solar-powered car, named the “Quiet Achiever,” along the 2,800 mile stretch between Sydney and Perth in 20 days, ten days faster than the first gasoline-powered car to make the same run. Tholstrup later founds the “World Solar Challenge” in Australia, considered the world championship of solar car racing. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hans Tholstrup

Category Tags: Silicon Technology, Other Nations' Policies

Denis Hayes, the chairman of the Earth Day Network and the head of the Bullitt Foundation, writes of how the US government could encourage the expansion of solar power as a means to combat global warming. The federal government could sink significant funds into buying “wind turbines, biofuels, fuel cells, hydrogen, hypercars, and other elements of a solar future,” he writes. Doing so “will accelerate the speed at which such products become affordable for the rest of us. We typically think in terms of federal procurement, but state and local governments can play an important role too.” The most obvious candidate for federal purchasing is solar cells, Hayes writes. “Lowering the cost of solar cells would provide extraordinary public benefits. Solar cells make electricity, but they consume no fuel, produce no pollution, generate no radioactive waste, have long lifetimes, contain no moving parts, and require little maintenance. They can be fashioned mostly from silicon, which is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Solar cells produce zero carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. Unfortunately, solar cells are not yet cheap enough to compete with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. Although the price of solar cells already has fallen about 40-fold, this technology remains roughly three times too expensive to achieve skyrocketing growth as a power source in the United States. For a quarter-century, affordable solar cells have been the environmental brass ring, lying just outside the grasp of those who favor green power. Governmental procurement could lower their price to the point where they will take off on their own in the private sector. A comparison of the experiences of computer chips and solar cells vividly illustrates the value of government procurement in bringing new products to market.” If the government were to invest in the production of solar cells, their production price would drop precipitously as mass-production procedures would be instituted. Hayes gives the example of the integrated circuit, which was viewed as an expensive oddity until the Defense Department began buying it in bulk. The price of the circuits dropped dramatically, and private market opportunities began presenting themselves. Hayes notes, “In just six years, the price of integrated circuits plummeted 95 percent and an enormous commercial market developed.” A similar cost-production curve was followed by CPUs, which at first were too expensive to use, but when Intel and other firms achieved the ability to make them in bulk, their price dropped. As a result, integrated circuits and CPUs drove the information revolution. The same could happen with solar cells, Hayes argues. Hayes concludes that if the government sinks a significant amount of money into buying solar cells—he suggests $5 billion over the next four years—“the impact on the world will be revolutionary.” [Grist Magazine, 5/8/2000]

Entity Tags: Denis Hayes

Category Tags: Public Finance, Other Nations' Policies

Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA) announces plans to develop a satellite-based solar power system that will beam energy back to Earth via a laser. The laser will “feed” the collected energy to an airship cruising 12 miles above the ground, which would then transmit the energy to a ground-based station. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Space Development Agency (Japan)

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

The Australian government announces it will invest $4.5 billion ($3.4 billion in US dollars) in developing the infrastructure necessary to generate energy from solar and wind power, and to reduce carbon emissions. It will also invest in low-emission coal technologies and in large-scale solar electricity generation projects. $465 million goes to a new governmental organization, “Renewables Australia,” intended to lead development in renewable energy research, development, and deployment. The investment plans go against years of Australian governmental policy that forbid spending funds on building clean energy infrastructure. [Breakthrough Institute, 5/18/2009]

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

China is among the nations spending the most on clean and renewable energy technologies, according to investment figures released by the advisory company Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Overall, the world’s nations invested $243 billion in clean energy in 2010, up from $185.5 billion in 2009 and double the amount of money invested in 2006. Bloomberg CEO Michael Liebriech says: “This is a spectacular result, beating previous record investment levels by a clear margin of more than $50 billion. It flies in the face of skepticism about the clean energy sector among public market investors.” Small-scale distributed generation projects such as rooftop solar arrays saw the biggest increase, with Germany investing the most and nations like the Czech Republic, Italy, and the US following behind. China invested more than any other nation in clean energy, spending over $51 billion. Nations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa still spend the most, collectively, on clean energy technology, but the nations of Asia and Oceania have surpassed American spending and are closing the gap on the regional leaders. Public market investment rose in 2010 after recession-driven lows in 2008 and 2009. [RenewableEnergyWorld, 1/11/2011]

Entity Tags: Michael Liebriech

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies

The US has slipped to third place in clean energy investment in 2010, despite the federal government’s push to promote investment in clean energy and reduced pollution (see February 2009). China (see January 11, 2011) and Germany are both outspending the US in clean energy investment, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Phyllis Cuttino, the director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program, says, “The United States’s position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain.” As competitors adopt renewable energy standards and incentives for renewable energy investment, the US could fall even further behind, Cuttino warns. The US spent $34 billion last year on clean energy, while China invested $54.4 billion and Germany $41.2 billion. [USA Today, 3/29/2011]

Entity Tags: Phyllis Cuttino

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, US Policies

On Fox News’s morning show Fox and Friends, “expert” commentator Shibani Joshi of Fox Business tells viewers that the reason Germany has had so much success with its solar power industry is that it gets a great deal more sunlight than America does. In reality, Germany gets comparatively little sunlight, comparative to Alaska, the US state that gets the least amount of annual direct solar energy. Neither Joshi nor any of the hosts on the show mention Germany’s long governmental support of solar energy development and its backing of green technology research and development. Host Gretchen Carlson and her fellow hosts deride the Obama administration’s “failed” solar subsidies, with Carlson saying: “The United States simply hasn’t figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it’s working out great for them.” The future of America’s solar industry, Carlson asserts, “is dim.” She then asks Joshi: “What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?” Joshi replies: “They’re a smaller country and they’ve got lots of sun. Right? They’ve got a lot more sun than we do.… The problem is it’s a cloudy day and it’s raining, you’re not gonna have it.” A few American states like California get a relatively plentiful amount of sunshine, Joshi says, and experience some success with generating energy from sunlight, “but here on the East Coast, it’s just not going to work.” Slate reporter Will Oremus will later write: “Gosh, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before? Wouldn’t you think that some scientist, somewhere, would have noticed that the East Coast is far less sunny than Central Europe and therefore incapable of producing solar power on the same scale? You would—if it were true.” According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977), almost the entire continental US gets more sunlight than the sunniest region of Germany. NREL scientist Sarah Kurtz tells Oremus, “Germany’s solar resource is akin to Alaska’s.” According to an NREL map, the American Southwest is one of the best places in the world to generate solar power, and all of the continental US with the possible exception of the Puget Sound region in Washington state gets far more sunlight than anywhere in Germany. [Slate, 2/7/2013; Media Matters, 2/7/2013] Four days later, Joshi will admit she is wrong. In a post on Fox News’s blog, she will write: “I incorrectly stated that the chief difference between the US and Germany’s success with solar installations had to do with climate differences on a Fox and Friends appearance on Feb. 7. In fact, the difference come down more to subsidies and political priorities and has nothing to with sunshine.” She will then continue to deride solar energy as a minor element in a “divers[ified] energy portfolio,” and will claim that natural gas obtained via “fracking” is a better and more reliable source of energy for the next century. [Fox News, 2/11/2013]

Entity Tags: Shibani Joshi, Gretchen Carlson, Fox News, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sarah Kurtz, Will Oremus, Obama administration

Category Tags: Popular Media, Other Nations' Policies, US Policies

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