Don’t be a solar PV efficiency snob

Physics professor Tom Murphy fights solar PV snobbery with his explanation of why 15 percent efficiency rates for solar panels is actually quite remarkable and not the real barrier to clean power.

PHOTOS: Chromasun’s Rooftop Next-Gen Solar Project

A rooftop at Santa Clara University is now home to a next-generation solar technology. Specifically the university has commissioned a solar concentrating photovoltaic project — which uses both mirrors to concentrate sunlight and also solar cells — from startup Chromasun.

Today in Cleantech

Solar photovoltaic panels are great sources of energy, whether on household rooftops or in huge utility-scale arrays — that is, until clouds pass overhead. That can cause solar PV systems to drop output by 70 percent or so in less than 10 minutes, wreaking potential havoc on grid stability. How to manage this intermittency without expensive energy storage? A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study indicates that spreading out solar panels can help balance the sags and surges caused by passing clouds — information that may be taken into account when locating utility-scale solar farms. Tracking weather patterns to predict when and where the sun will stop shining will also help.

PVT Solar Bags Cash to Peddle Electric-Heat Combo

PVT Solar, which is developing a way to capture heat from a solar-panel rooftop system for heating water and homes, has raised a series B round of $13.7 million and also brought in a new CEO, Vikas Desai, the company plans to announce Tuesday.

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?

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

Intersolar Roundup: Shading Solutions, Thin-Film News and Awards

Some 60,000 solar insiders from around the world have gathered in Munich this week for the annual Intersolar conference. As prices for solar panels fall and solar developers face financing challenges in the economic downturn, Markus Elsässer, CEO of Solar Promotion, one of the two organizers of Intersolar 2009, positioned this as a year of innovation for the solar industry: “We have seen countless new and highly innovative products and systems in the run-up to the show,” he said in a release.

Here’s a roundup of some news items from the show so far:

Masdar PV, a wholly owned solar subsidiary of Masdar, the Abu Dhabi cleantech initiative, unveiled its thin-film solar panels at Intersolar this week. The company claims the panels, which include a double layer of amorphous silicon, are 10 percent more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than regular single-layer amorphous-silicon panels. Masdar PV plans to use a SunFab manufacturing line from Applied Materials (s AMAT), which is currently being installed near Erfurt, Germany, to mass-produce the panels.
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