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Promising Innovations, Public Sector Momentum Around Solar in the US

President Obama made several announcements on Monday at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, mainly related to executive actions under the Clean Power Plan. New financial commitments include $1 billion in loan guarantees for “innovative” energy projects, $220 million in energy-saving activities for veterans and low-income households, and $24 million for 11 solar panel technology development projects.

Energy-generation projects will build on the success of the world’s largest solar installation, which came online last year. Over 40 military bases in the US will have solar panels installed and a 485-megawatt photovoltaic facility in Riverside County will be approved.

In addition, the US Navy announced last week it will purchase energy from the Mesquite Solar 3 power plant. The plant is set to begin construction this month and be completed by the end of 2016. The project will feature 650,000 solar panels for a capacity of 210MW. Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, said the 20-year deal is “projected to save the Navy at least $90 million over the life of the project.”

The announced initiatives provide renewed momentum towards the President’s goals, which include emission reductions of 26 percent from 2005 to 2025 and increasing renewables’ share of electricity generation mixes to 20 percent by 2030. The Clean Power Plan received significant support from hundreds of US-based companies before its release earlier this month.

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In his speech, the President also highlighted several achievements in renewable energy during his tenure, including that America generates three times more wind power and 20 times more solar power than it did in 2008. He stressed that renewables are significant and positive for the economy, citing job creation and ever-lowering costs.

Meanwhile, another improvement in solar technology was revealed this week by US-based SolarWindow Technologies. The company claims its liquid coatings with tiny solar cell arrays generate up to 50 times more energy than roof-based photovoltaics and provide “calculated financial payback” in under one year.

SolarWindow Technologies designed the product for skyscrapers. They estimate that a 50-story building with solar windows could generate 1.3GWh — significantly more than the 0.087GWh that a typical skyscraper generates from rooftop photovoltaics.

“Whether crystalline silicon or inorganic thin film, all conventional solar panels are inherently opaque and thus impossible to see through. In contrast, organic photovoltaics from Solar Windows are so incredibly thin that it lets light through,” said the company’s principle scientist, Dr Scott Hammond.

The product is promising, especially given similar previous attempted developments in solar technology. Scientists at Michigan State University created transparent solar cells last year using organic molecules, but they could only convert about 1 percent of incoming energy. And London-based startup SolarLayer launched an Indiegogo campaign last month to crowdfund its new solar paint, but has had little success.

SolarWindow Technologies collaborated with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as part of a research development agreement.

“The development of a transparent photovoltaic is actually extremely challenging,” said Dr Maikel Hest, senior scientist at the NREL. “Any typical photovoltaic device will absorb the physical light and that is converted into electrical power. However in this case we want it to be transparent so we couldn’t really use the physical light.

“Therefore we need to engineer a device in such a way that it allows for the physical light to pass through. Achieving that while also generating significant power at the same time is a major technical achievement.”


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