Last week it came to light that solar power will return to space in two new innovative ways, manned aircraft and solar sail. More terrestrially, solar power continued to march forward with a California utility reaching more than 2.4 gigawatts of rooftop solar, while more evidence showed solar is reaching a tipping point—oh and Google is going 100 percent green energy in 2017.
Let’s take it from the top—last week Ascent Solar announced that its flexible, lightweight, thin-film photovoltaics will be tested on the Japanese space agency’s Jupiter Mission solar sail satellite. The solar cells will provide power for the mission’s operations while the sail will provide propulsion for the satellite.
Flying just below the satellite’s path will be the newly announced SolarStratus plane, a plane that will fly from the ground to very edge of space, powered only by solar panels. It’s an answer, of sorts, to record set earlier this by Solar Impulse, which completed a solar-powered circumnavigation of the earth earlier this year.
Speaking of thin-films and lightweight solar power, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is working with the Navy and the military to use solar power to lighten the loads of soldiers. Currently, soldiers can carry upwards of 70-80 pounds of gear—batteries and electronics can be a significant portion of that. Using lightweight, flexible solar panels to power some of their electronics could help lighten that load making them more efficient.
More evidence has surfaced that the solar industry and the renewables industry, at large, have reached a tipping point of no going back—despite what the President-elect and his cabinet picks might say. In NRDC’s annual energy report, Accelerating into a Clean Energy Future, the organization observed that clean energy is now less expensive than coal and other fossil-fuel-based electric generation sources. It found that coal-based generation fell to historic lows as renewable energy reached historic highs. Still, the report stated state and local policies—as well as federal policies—are imperative to ensuring that progress continues.
It’s certainly the case in California, which, by far, has the most solar power installed in the nation. In fact, as PG&E reaches more than 275,000 rooftop solar systems in its service area, representing more than 2.4 gigawatts of installed distributed solar power—more than almost every state has installed!—it’s moving to a new net-metering approach, NEM2. The new approach uses time-of-use charges, a small fee for installing solar and some other mechanisms to help its customers go solar while not shifting costs to non-solar customers.
The cloud just got cleaner, too! While it might not sound great to say the cloud has a green lining, that’s how Google sees it. Last week the tech giant announced that in 2017 all of its electricity will come from renewables. It will be the largest company to reach that goal and the company said its choices to add in wind and solar are because it’s saving money.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the solar industry last week, however. One of the US’s oldest solar companies, SunPower, announced that it will cut 2,500 jobs and reduce its solar panel manufacturing. With record-low costs of panels from China because of overproduction, it’s made it tougher for solar manufacturers to compete. As such the company is shuttering a manufacturing facility in the Philippines and reducing its workforce.Tweet