Global environmental challenges
At the U.S. Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon, visitors can try on — OK, tour — these avant garde houses, knowing at least that they’re supremely energy efficient. And with the solar power industry on the defensive after the Solyndra bankruptcy, it’s a decent showcase for new technologies.
Set up along the Potomac River on a slightly out of the way corner of Washington’s National Mall, the village of 19 solar-powered homes represents the work of collegiate designers from New York to New Zealand, the University of Tennessee to Tongji University in China. The requirements are strict: each house must be between 600 and 1,000 square feet, and no taller than 18 feet, and be powered by the sun. Any power taken from the grid must be offset by solar energy produced by the house. No fireplaces, fire pits or candles allowed.
Officially opened on September 22, the contest judges the homes’ affordability, appliances, architecture, comfort zone, communications, energy balance, engineering, home entertainment, hot water and market appeal.
On Earth, we consider design, fuel efficiency, and enduring power when thinking of “green” vehicles. But there’s one solar-powered all-terrain vehicle that has by some lights out-performed anything rolling around on Earth. It is the doughty little robotic rover Opportunity, doggedly using its seven-year-old solar array to chug over the rocky surface of Mars.
Opportunity, like its twin rover Spirit, was designed to drive about .6 mile (1 kilometer) along the martian surface; by last month, Opportunity had driven more than 30 times that distance. It completed its primary mission in 2004 and since then has made important discoveries about parts of ancient Mars that might have been hospitable to microscopic life.
Like many earthly vehicles that are a bit past their prime, Opportunity has a few quirks, according to NASA’s Dave Lavery, who spoke at a briefing on the rover’s latest findings.
“We’re no longer driving a hot sports car,” he said. “We’re now driving a 1965 Mustang that hasn’t been restored.”
Even though Opportunity’s “drivers” are on Earth, controlling the golf-cart-sized robot remotely, they plainly feel a fair amount of affection for the little craft. NASA’s John Callas described the rover’s status almost as if it were a spunky grandparent.
“We have a very senior rover that’s showing her age,” Callas told reporters. “She had some arthritis and other issues, but generally she’s in good health, she’s sleeping well at night, her cholesterol levels are excellent and so we look forward to productive scientific exploration for the period ahead.”
Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) — a water purification system driven by solar power — as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.
That’s the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.
Days after solar cell maker SpectraWatt notified New York authorities that it will shut down its seven-month-old factory and lay off 117 employees, China’s Trina Solar announced Monday that it will invest $800 million in new manufacturing plants over the next three years.
The move by Trina underscores just how difficult it has become for solar startups in the United States to compete against the massive investment being poured into Chinese photovoltaic module makers.
These days there’s not a lot of industries that can report booming growth year after year (the one-company juggernaut that is Apple excepted). But it’s blue skies for the photovoltaic industry, according to a new report showing that solar installations in the United States are expected to have grown 62 percent in 2010 from the previous year.
The survey released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research found that as of the close of the third quarter, 530 megawatts of photovoltaic modules had been installed so far this year, 22 percent more than the total for 2009.
Chinese solar power companies have shone amid the downturn in the solar industry, converting their low cost advantage into bigger market share and profits.
Now, China’s Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd is making a play to raise its global profile. It’s taking its solar panels to the world’s biggest sporting event, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and has signed up to help sponsor the event.
U.S. billionaire Ted Turner is taking a shine to solar power — again.
Back in 2007, Turner sold solar developer Turner Renewable Energy to solar panel maker First Solar for $34.4 million — which has since ramped up its push into developing its own solar power projects.
Now Turner is teaming up with Atlanta-based utility Southern Company to develop renewable energy in the United States. To start, they will focus on large-scale solar farms in the U.S. Southwest, where solar development is already heating up in states like California and Arizona.
President Barack Obama came into office with climate change and the environment on his list of top priorities.
Nearly a year later, one of the top environmental groups in the United States says that Obama has made the grade so far.
Solar power is heating up in the northern reaches of Canada, a country not exactly known for its sunny rays and warm weather.
The industry has seen a heap of news from the region this week. US. solar heavyweight First Solar and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge announced that they are quadrupling the size of a solar farm in Ontario.