Monday, April 23, 2007

New advances give Solar Energy time to shine

Changes in progress do not happen in a straight line, a-little-at-a-time, fashion. They tend to happen in spurts, or even quantum leaps. And it doesn't matter what industry, or what technology we're talking about. Someone will have an idea and create an industry-changing product (or create a whole new industry). Soon everyone scrambles to adapt and use the same type of technology. Over time they will make improvements to the technology, making it a little bit better than before. Then, someone will come up with another radical idea and make a new product 10 times better (or 100 times, or 1,000 times.) This is how technology has advanced since the beginning of time, from crude instruments in the cave man days all the way up to Ely's cotton gin, Henry Ford's assembly line, IBM's computers, and WalMart's supply chain management. Well, it looks like solar energy might be in the early stages of a quantum leap forward.

I've wondered for as long as I can remember why we don't use solar energy more in Arizona. After all, we have more sunlight than we know what to do with! There are enough solar panels scattered around town that I know the technology is being used, but nowhere near what it should be, right? Power a few hot water heaters, heat a few pools, yadda yadda yadda. I don't think that's going to solve our looming energy crises.

Well, as I've written before, money is the ultimate driver of change, and solar energy has not yet proven itself to be an overwhelming financial winner. That may change soon. AZCentral.com ran an article recently about a new solar panel which has the ability to capture 60 times more energy than the current standard panels on the market. 60 times… That's a lot! That's a disruptive technology and a quantum leap forward. Unfortunately, the new panels don't have a converter yet to match their efficiency, but the engineers are working on that part next. Let's hope they're successful.

If I can heat my water for a fraction of the cost of gas /electricity, or if I can run my lights, computer, refrigerator, a/c unit, etc. on solar energy – even for part of the day – I will be the first one to sign up! And if we're talking about saving real money AND being good to the environment, I'm hoping the line behind me will be very long.

- Chris Butterworth