Today in Cleantech

Let’s dedicate this Friday to singing the praises of solar power, the new industrial employment engine of the world’s major economies. The good news comes from Stephen Lacey of Think Progress, who writes this week that the U.S. and German solar sectors both now employ more people than U.S. steel production. According to 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the U.S. solar sector generated 93,000 direct and indirect jobs, if one includes jobs in solar photovoltaic (PV) power, solar hot water and concentrating solar power. In Germany, solar PV alone accounts for 100,000 jobs. As solar power grows in might and scale as an industry, we’re seeing the continuing fall in prices for solar raw materials and finished products down the chain, which makes for tough markets for solar equipment producers but cheaper solar power in the long run. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest figures (PDF) show that from May to June, prices for solar-grade silicon fell 28 percent, silicon wafers fell 23 percent and solar cells fell 15 percent, with the end product of solar modules (panels) falling 6.5 percent. That brings the cost of generating power from solar PV down to 18 to 20 cents per kilowatt-hour — and that can compete with daytime power prices in select markets. Things are starting to get interesting.

Today in Cleantech

The U.S. economy may be sputtering at the edge of a double-dip recession, but that hasn’t stopped the solar photovoltaic industry from continuing its steady climb in the first quarter of this year. U.S. installations of solar panels saw a 66-percent increase in the first three months of 2011 compared to the same month last year, to grow to 252 megawatts of installations, according to figures from the Solar Energy Industries Associations (SEIA) and GTM Research. That brings total U.S. photovoltaic capacity to 2.85 gigawatts, or enough to power about 600,000 homes — a measure at once of the growth of the industry, and just how far it has yet to go to contribute more than a tiny fraction of the nation’s overall power demand. Still, amidst flagging economic conditions, it’s nice to see an industry that’s steadily growing. Some of this week’s solar news, including Google’s creation of a $280 million fund for solar installer/financier SolarCity, the closing of French oil giant’s $1.38 billion purchase of solar panel giant SunPower, and the IPO announcement of microinverter maker Enphase, help underscore the fact that where business is booming, financial and technological innovation will follow.

MailBrowser: A Plugin to Manage Gmail Contacts and Attachments

If you’re a Gmail (s goog) user who’s coveted third-party Outlook (s msft) email productivity add-ons like Xobni or Gist, you might like to check out Webyog’s new MailBrowser. It’s a free plugin for Firefox and IE (with Chrome support on its way) that aims to extend the contact and attachment management capabilities of Gmail.

Getting started is straightforward: Download and install the plugin (versions available for both Windows and Mac) and give it your Gmail account credentials (which are only stored locally on your machine, as it’s not a web app). It uses IMAP to connect to your Gmail and Google Apps accounts; once connected, it trawls through your emails looking for contacts and attachments. As soon as it’s finished indexing your emails, you’re ready to go.

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Utilities Poised to Brighten U.S. Solar Market

It looks like utilities are poised to drive the U.S. solar market in coming years, based on a new report from Emerging Energy Research that predicts utilities will add 21.5 GW of photovoltaic capacity by 2020, up from only 77 MW of utility-driven PV projects in operation today. The report released Thursday confirms the trend we noted back in October, and the projections are huge considering that the United States made up only 360 MW of demand last year, according to Solarbuzz.

U.S. utilities already have announced more than 4.8 GW of large PV projects in the works, according to the Emerging Energy Research report. The firm forecasts that utilities will play a key role in shaping the changing landscape of solar power and estimates the U.S. PV market – led by utility activity – will grow from 2 GW in 2011 to a whopping 12 GW in 2015. That compares to a worldwide solar market of 5.8 GW in 2008, according to Photon Consulting’s Solar Annual 2009. Photon projects the global PV market will reach 8.6 GW this year and 44.9 GW in 2011, meaning that the U.S. would make up more than a quarter of the world market in 2011 if Emerging Energy Research’s forecasts are on target, up from about 6 percent last year. Read More about Utilities Poised to Brighten U.S. Solar Market

How to Enable Data Roaming on the Palm Pre

palm-pre-data-roamingAs we were recording our podcast this morning, Matt Miller said that the HTC Hero has him thinking about a Sprint (s s) plan. The only problem is that Matt lives in an area with limited Sprint coverage. The carrier does have a roaming agreement with Verizon Wireless (s vz), which could help Matt. But when James and I traveled to Northern California this summer for a GigaOM event, we had no data coverage on our Palm Pre handsets. At least that’s what we thought.

In a “duh!” moment on the podcast, I finally found the data roaming settings on the Pre. I’m sure many of you have already found them, but neither James nor I knew where to look. Now we do! To enable data roaming — which is off by default:

  • Open the Phone application
  • Tap the Preferences option in the top left menu.
  • Scroll down to the Network preferences and choose “Enable” or “Disable” as needed on the Data Roaming option.

I wish I had known where to find this in July, when I needed it, but better late than never! Bear in mind that Sprint’s data roaming with Verizon is limited. You’re generally allowed up to 300MB of off-network data roaming per month, according to Sprint’s FAQs on its web site. That might explain why this setting is off by default. Now the only question remaining is, will Matt add a Sprint device based on this info?

Vid-Biz: Upfronts, TiVo, Hulu

Broadcast Networks Cut Upfront Ad Prices; estimates peg the decline at 15 to 20 percent off last year, dipping to $7.5 billion, a dollar figure not seen since 2001. (The LA Times)
TiVo Gets Rovi’s Data; DVR service will get access to Rovi’s metadata, which includes info on more than 1 million TV series episodes, 400,000 movie titles and 13 million music tracks. (Multichannel News)
More Online Video Ads vs. Higher Prices, That is the Question; CBS trying to figure out how many ads viewers will tolerate, Hulu just wants to charge more for fewer ads. (BusinessWeek)
Pure Pwnage Going to Canadian TV; web series gets an eight episode order from the Showcase channel. (Tubefilter)
More than Half of Americans Have an HDTV; 53 percent of U.S. households have HDTVs (it was 35 percent in 2008) according to CTAM; 69 percent of those have HDTV service. (Multichannel News)
Sims Creator Looking Beyond Games; Will Wright considers himself an “entertainment designer” and is working on new ideas that go into TV and movies. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Vid-Biz: TV Ads, Lost, Fred

Broadcast Networks Cutting the Price of Ads; advertisers able to negotiate cheaper rates for the upcoming TV season, bummer news for networks who are already feeling an economic pinch. (The Wall Street Journal)
Kia Motors Gets Lost for New Web Series; Mysteries of the Universe: The Dharma Initiative will be a fictional documentary series set in the early 1980s; first episode available now. (

“Fred” to Be an Emo Boy; YouTube star Lucas Cruikshank makes move to movies to star as a high schooler who believes he has “emo powers.” (The Hollywood Reporter)
Generate Finds a “Hero” for Digital Programming; company partnering with Milo Ventimiglia’s Divide Pictures to develop content for the young male demo. (Variety)
FiOS TV Hits 2.5 Million Subscribers; telco’s rise is putting pressure on the cable companies. (GigaOM)
BigBand Networks Develops Video “Supergroup;” company says its Converged Video Exchange technology lets operators bundle QAM channels and manage bandwidth more efficiently. (Multichannel News)

Disaster Film 2012’s Viral Marketing Campaign Is Also a Disaster

[show=twentytwelve size=large]Warning: The below post contains spoilers for the upcoming Roland Emmerich-directed film “2012,” starring John Cusack, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover. Trust me, you’re not missing much.

Back in the winter of 2008, I had more than a few good reasons to be excited for 2012, due out on Nov. 13: I’ve got a soft spot for both John Cusack and the apocalypse, the teaser trailer gave me chills, and Emmerich films are a guilty pleasure. Also, I liked what was then the very beginning of a viral campaign to promote the film, focusing around the Institute for Human Continuity, a fictional organization created to choose via lottery who survives the Mayan-predicted end times — it reminded me of the revolutionary ARG known as The Beast, which created a fascinating interactive prequel to Steven Spielberg’s A.I. in 2001.

Over the past six months, the viral marketing folk at Sony (s sne) have expanded the online world of the film, adding more content to the IHC and launching two additional sites (This Is the End and Farewell Atlantis, the latter promoting a novel written by John Cusack’s nice-guy-just-trying-to-save-his-kids character). They’ve also been making heavy use of YouTube to release videos.

The IHC YouTube channel is posting video responses to questions asked on webcams by “vloggers” — the vloggers are plants, but some effort was put into creating fake YouTube accounts for them. And one of them looks more than a little familiar — that’s right, kids, it’s Woody from Cheers! Read More about Disaster Film 2012’s Viral Marketing Campaign Is Also a Disaster