Super efficient perovskites are dazzling solar cell researchers

There’s a lot of excitement about a class of materials called perovskites that promise to deliver efficient and cheap solar cells. In a pursuit to lower production cost, one team at the Northern Illinois University recently demonstrated the possibility of replacing gold with nickel to conducting electricity.

Soft costs in solar getting worse not better

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released two reports on Monday assessing soft costs as a percentage of the cost of a solar system in the U.S. Soft costs refer to everything outside the actual cost of the hardware, which has seen a drastic plunge in prices. Soft costs include financing, taxes, corporate fees, installation charges, permitting and marketing.

From a summary:

Surveys of solar system installers accounting for 93 megawatts of residential and commercial solar projects found that in the first six months of 2012, soft costs represented 64 percent of the total price paid for residential systems, up from 50 percent reported one year before.

For small commercial systems, soft costs accounted for 57 percent of total spending on solar systems, up from 44 percent a year earlier. Large commercial systems saw a similar shift, with soft costs accounting for 52 percent of all spending, up from 41 percent previously.

Overall, the NREL soft cost benchmark analysis found that nonhardware expenses account for $3.19 per watt for residential systems, $2.90 per watt for small commercial systems and $2.02 per watt for large commercial systems, using 2010 dollars. Those figures are much higher than the Energy Department has said are necessary to stimulate robust growth in the U.S. solar industry.

These figures indicate the depth of the problem and point to just how much more competitive solar could be right now. The DOE does have the Sunshot Initiative aimed at generating solutions for reducing soft costs. Because while solar panel prices may continue to edge down, they’re unlikely to come down in price at the rate they’ve fallen over the past couple years, and progress in making solar more price competitive will have to come from lowering soft costs.


7 projects looking to use big data to cut the cost of solar power

Data analytics will be able to help lower the cost of solar through cutting installation costs, making solar cells more efficient and creating better market mechanisms. Here’s 7 projects that the DOE is funding to use data to make solar cheaper.

Report: The clean power cash grant program was working

A new report out of the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Labs says that the $9 billion clean power cash grant program (formally called the 1603 grant program), which expired at the end of 2011, was actually working and creating jobs and economic output.

A word of caution for next-gen solar startups

It’s been painfully apparent that many of the well-funded startups building next-gen solar tech have yet to ship solar panels in any large volumes and have missed their targets. And even the folks in the solar industry are starting to take each other to task.

Google embraces solar skylight from EnFocus

Startup EnFocus Engineering’s technology replaces an ordinary skylight with a high-tech version that features solar cells and optics to manage the light that flows into a room. The company will be installing a prototype system at Google.

Verizon turns to national lab for energy efficiency

Telecom companies have known for some time that their industry’s carbon footprint will grown and that presents an opportunity. Verizon announced on Wednesday it will turn to a national lab for help to come up with marketable energy saving technologies.

First Solar boasts world-record solar cell

Solar-panel prices are falling fast, and that is putting enormous pressure on manufacturers to boost their solar gear’s efficiency. First Solar feels the pressure, too, and on Tuesday boasted a world-record solar cell at 17.3 percent efficiency.

DuPont buys solar ink maker Innovalight

DuPont announced on Monday that it has bought Innovalight, a Silicon Valley startup that makes silicon ink that solar-cell makers can use to improve the amount of electricity that the cells can squeeze out of sunlight. DuPont declined to disclose the purchase price.

How to get smarter windows without buying new ones

Dynamic windows are being manufactured by innovative companies like Soladigm and Sage. But what if you could get these smarter windows without buying a new one? A startup called US e-Chromic, which is a semi-finalist at the Cleantech Open 2011, has a plan cooking for that.