Recent solar and smart grid news

Just some quick thoughts on news that has been piling up over the last couple weeks.  

San Francisco Solar Map Lets You Spy on Your Neighbor: Treehugger informs us of the truly epic SF solar map, an example of an important and technologically-savvy step in addressing the multi-faceted information barriers limiting the installation of solar.  Using Google Mapping technology, you can explore PV systems installed to date in San Francisco, or determine the potential capacity and cost of installing solar on your own roof.  

Giant Retailers Look to Sun for Energy Savings: covers the efforts of Wal-Mart, Kohl and others utilize their massive roof space for solar panels.  The potential expiration of the solar tax credit at the end of this year is apparently speeding up project timelines, but some interesting quotes and numbers from the specific retailers.  Also worth noting new installations at General Motors (1.2MW), Atlantic City Convention Center (2.36MW),   

Shopping for cleantech at Ikea: Ikea plans to invest 50 million Euros in various clean technologies, all under the guise of increasing the availability of these technologies to Ikea customers. That said, each technology investment category appears to have very specific green building applications.  

Federal Lab Breaks Efficiency Record With 'Mismatched' Solar Cell: NREL efforts to increase efficiency point to the value of public sector R&D investment.  Within the article is the note that the Department of Energy plans to spend an additional $24 million developing “breakthrough” solar products.  For what it’s worth, this compares to the $700 million that venture capital firms invested in solar in the first half of 2008.  

IBM to prime pump for smart-grid start-ups: IBM has long been interested in smart grid technology and the power of networked electricity infrastructure, for obvious competitive reasons.  This article references IBM’s efforts to create a common platform for smart grid technologies (with the hope of essentially simplifying communication and integration protocols between utilities and smart grid tech).  Within this interview, the co-founder of an IBM venture capital initiative provides additional context for IBM’s smart grid strategy.

New Energy Finance Predicts 43% Solar Silicon Price Drop: the numbers range depending on the source from 20% by some investment bank analysts, to 30% by experts I’ve spoken with, and now 43% from NEF.  Bottom line, the price for silicon used in solar panels is expected to drop dramatically in the next 6 months to a year (especially if Spain follows through with its 300MW cap, and the US solar ITC isn’t extended).  While this will have far-reaching ramifications on the nascent (but fast-growing) solar industry, the overall solar PV value chain is fairly long, and it could take a while for the drop in prices to filter through to the end price of a solar system.