Here comes the sun… again!

Robert J. Kobet, LEED Faculty

These seem to be good days for the solar industry.  As sure as the sun rises and sets, 2015 has been an up and down year for solar, but according to an article by Energy Manager Today, the profile of renewables is rising in general and, in particular, solar and wind sources are clearly gaining traction.  Work being done by five companies – Amtech Systems (which was granted $930,664), CelLink Corp. ($2.5 million), Concurrent Design ($1 million), Nevados Engineering ($773, 124) and Sunrun ($900,000) – is used by PV Magazine to illustrate the types of research that is ongoing and that the government is encouraging.

In September, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association released second quarter growth numbers for the solar industry.  The organizations found that the U.S. solar industry installed 1,393 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity during the quarter and overall passed the 20 GW mile stone during the three-month period.  The profile, however, is a bit lopsided toward the residential sector, which installed 473 MW and grew 70% compared to the year-ago quarter.  However, the non-residential market contracted 33%.


Jobs in the solar industry are growing along with improvements in the technology.

Overall, the report was good news for solar businesses.  While the grants from the government are aimed at reducing the cost of photovoltaics, research is ongoing on improving the technology.  The Department of Energy (DOE) recently released the “2015 Revolution…Now” report.  It shows dramatic cost reductions are continuing to drive the adoption of clean energy technologies.  The report covers the rapid growth of photovoltaic (PV) solar modules for both large, utility-scale PV plants, and smaller, rooftop, distributed PV systems that have achieved significant deployment nationwide.  DOE continues to invest in research and development for these technologies in addition to reducing market barriers in order to make these clean energy technologies even more cost-effective and widely available across the United States.

Solar technology itself continues to evolve.  A race is underway to create the most efficient photovoltaic technology.  SolarCity, Panasonic and other companies are looking at ways to increase PV efficiency, which are now in the mid 20% range.  There are other research efforts that go beyond making small and incremental improvements on current technology. recently posted a feature article that looked at five ways in which solar technology is evolving.  A simple method that directly addresses improving the yield of PV cells is mirrored solar dishes.  Use of mirrors, the author writes, increased the efficiency of the cell by concentrating the sunlight on a small area.


Mirrors used to concentrate solar energy on PV cells.

SPIE – an organization dedicated to taking an “interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light” says even greater changes in solar technology are likely in the not-too-distant future.  In a synopsis of a comprehensive paper the organization has posted it says that the power conversion efficiency of silicon, the material upon which most commercialized photovoltaics is based, “appears to be 25.6%.”  This means the current silicon based technology is just about maxed out.  The good news for proponents of photovoltaics is there are a number of other materials that will easily pass that level.  For instance, multi-junction solar cells, which the story says produces electric current in response to different wavelengths of light, have achieved efficiency of 37.9%.  The driving factors are the research and the cost of the new technology.  The good news is there is a lot of money on the table, which means that lots of very smart people – such as researchers at the University of Connecticut who are developing a gel that improves the ability of photovoltaic cells to absorb energy – will be working through the technology.  Since there are multiple approached, it is almost certain that approaches will be found that over time will reduce the costs and become widely commercialized.

84 Lumber and GreenEdge Supply share your interest in renewable energy systems.  Visit us online at to request more information on our solar program.

Weinschenk, Carl. “The Forecast Is Good for the Solar Industry.” Energy Manager Today. N.p., 20 Nov. 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

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