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US Solar Industry

Commercial Involvement

Project: US Solar Industry
Open-Content project managed by matt, Derek, KJF, mtuck

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Inventor Clarence Kemp of Baltimore patents the first commercial solar water heater. Kemp, who sells cutting-edge home heating equipment, combines the older practice of exposing metal tanks to sunlight with the scientific principle of the “hot box” (see September 27, 1816), thus increasing the tanks’ capability of collecting and retaining heat. He calls his invention the “Climax.” He first markets it to Eastern “gentlemen” whose wives have gone on holiday for the summer, leaving them to their own devices. Kemp sells his heaters by claiming that they will reduce the effort needed to perform housekeeping duties, especially for men unaccustomed to lighting the gas furnace or stove to heat water. Later, Kemp will find a brisk market for his Climax heaters in warmer states such as California. By 1897, a third of the households in Pasadena will use the Climax to heat water in their homes. [California Solar Center, 2001; US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Clarence Kemp

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology, Commercial Involvement

Despite the initial success of the “Climax” solar water heater (see 1891), consumers are dissatisfied with a major drawback of the heater: its inability to keep the water it heats hot for more than a few hours. Inventor William J. Bailey of the Carnegie Steel Company separates the solar heater into two components: a heating element exposed to the sun and an insulated storage unit kept inside the home. Bailey’s invention allows families to have solar-heated water day and night, and even into the next morning. The device keeps water in narrow pipes instead of a large tank, allowing the water to retain its heat longer and for less water needing to be exposed to the sun at any given time. Bailey calls his invention the Day and Night, and by 1918 sells over 4,000 of the heaters. [California Solar Center, 2001; US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William J. Bailey

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology, Commercial Involvement

By the 1930s, the solar water heater industry is essentially killed off in California by discoveries of huge natural gas reserves in the Los Angeles basin. William Bailey, who has grown rich selling his solar-powered water heaters (see 1909-1918), adapts his design for a thermostatically-controlled gas water heater. His Day and Night Solar Water Heater does quite well in Florida, where a building boom has brought in an influx of new residents, many of whom have to pay high rates for hot water. Florida’s semi-tropical climate and its housing boom creates an excellent selling environment for Bailey’s “hybrid” water heater. By 1941, over half of Florida residents heat their water with solar or solar-gas heaters. However, declining energy rates after World War II combined with an aggressive effort by Florida Power and Light to increase electrical consumption by offering electric water heaters at bargain prices brings the state’s solar water heater industry to its knees. [California Solar Center, 2001]

Entity Tags: William J. Bailey

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology, Commercial Involvement, Utilities and the Solar Industry

In the United States, scarce energy due to the war effort produces a high demand for passive-solar buildings. The Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company publishes a book called Your Solar House, profiling 49 of the nation’s best-known solar architects. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Popular Media, Commercial Involvement

1955: Western Electric Sells PV Licenses

Western Electric begins selling commercial licenses for silicon photovoltaic (PV) technologies (see 1954). Some successful products include PV-powered dollar bill changers and devices that decode computer punch cards and tape. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Western Electric

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

Architect Frank Bridgers and his partner, mechanical engineer Don Paxton, design and oversee the construction of the Bridgers-Paxton Building, the world’s first commercial office building using solar water heating and passive-solar design. The building, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, still exists as of 2013, though it is no longer functional. It will be commemorated in the National Historic Register. Life magazine devotes a multi-page spread to the building in a December 1956 issue, calling it an odd-looking office building that “has one wall sheathed in glass and tilted to face the sun.” That south-facing wall is slanted 30 degrees to best capture the intense New Mexico sunlight, the “passive solar” aspect of the design. The building also employs active mechanical components that comprise a five-phase system controlled by a set of pneumatic controls. The building will be featured in dozens of consumer and engineering magazines throughout the world. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Earth Alert!, 2006]

Entity Tags: Bridgers-Paxton Building, Don Paxton, Frank Bridgers

Category Tags: Commercial Involvement

The first large commercial production of selenium and silicon PV cells (see 1955) begins at Silicon Sensors, Inc. of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Silicon Sensors, Inc.

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

The German auto manufacturer Volkswagen begins testing solar-power arrays mounted on the roof of its Dasher station wagons. The system powers the car’s ignition system. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Volkswagen

Category Tags: Other Nations' Policies, Commercial Involvement

Hisperia, California launches the first PV megawatt-scale power station in existence. The station, developed by ARCO Solar, produces 1 megawatt of energy. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: ARCO Solar

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

1983: Solar House Operates in Hudson River Valley

Solar Design Associates builds and operates a free-standing solar-powered home in New York’s Hudson River Valley. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Solar Design Associates

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

4 Times Square, the tallest skyscraper built in New York City during the 1990s, is completed. The building incorporates a record-breaking amount of energy-efficient building techniques, which include an array of PV panels on the 37th through 43rd floors that produce power from sunlight. The array uses a “photovoltaic skin” that replaces the usual glass cladding materials. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 4 Times Square

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

First Solar of Perrysburg, Ohio begins manufacturing photovoltaic solar panels, producing enough panels to generate 100 megawats of power per year. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: First Solar

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

The Home Depot in San Diego begins selling solar residential power systems in three of its stores. In 2002, the franchise will expand sales to 61 stores nationwide. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Home Depot

Category Tags: Commercial Involvement

The Powerlight Corporation installs the US’s largest rooftop solar power system, at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California. It is the fourth largest solar electric system in the world. It reduces the jail’s use of conventionally generated electricity by some 30 percent, and provides energy to the jail via three acres of solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) panels. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: PowerLight Corporation

Category Tags: Commercial Involvement, Solar Industry

A BP gas station in Indianapolis is outfitted with a solar-electric canopy built by BP Solar. The station is the first of a series of “BP Connect” stores, and is intended to serve as a model for all new or refurbished BP stores. The canopy uses translucent PV modules made of thin films of silicon on glass, the “PowerView Semi-Transparent Photovoltaic Module,” and is designed to double both as a power generation system and as a roof or a window. BP will incorporate the system into some 150 stations by 2001, having the modules replace conventional glass in walls, canopies, atriums, entrances, and facades in commercial and residential architecture. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: British Petroleum

Category Tags: Commercial Involvement

The world’s largest hybrid power generating system comes online in Hawaii, combining wind and solar power production. The plant, built by PowerLight Corporation, generates more electricity from the sun than it does from wind. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: PowerLight Corporation

Category Tags: Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

Richland, Washington, brings the largest solar power facility in the Northwest, the White Bluffs Solar Station, online. The facility generates almost 39 kilowatts of electricity. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: White Bluffs Solar Station

Category Tags: Utilities and the Solar Industry, Commercial Involvement

Author and computer scientist Ramez Naam writes a column for Scientific American explaining how “Moore’s Law” is at work in the dropping cost of solar energy generation. The benefits are obvious, he writes: “If humanity could capture one tenth of one percent of the solar energy striking the earth—one part in one thousand—we would have access to six times as much energy as we consume in all forms today, with almost no greenhouse gas emissions. At the current rate of energy consumption increase—about 1 percent per year—we will not be using that much energy for another 180 years.” Currently, solar energy only makes up 0.2 percent of the world’s energy production, mostly because the systems to capture and use solar energy are, he says, “expensive and inefficient.” But that is changing for the better. Moore’s Law is an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, in which he said that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled each year. Moore predicted that trend would continue. Later observations codified the “law” to say that the number of transistors per square inch would double approximately every 18 months, in essence doubling the amount of computing power available to a given computer every 18 months. Naam is extrapolating the law to apply to the exponential decrease in the cost of generating solar energy. “If similar dynamics worked in solar power technology,” he writes, “then we would eventually have the solar equivalent of an iPhone—incredibly cheap, mass distributed energy technology that was many times more effective than the giant and centralized technologies it was born from.” Naam takes data generated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL—see 1977) to note that since 1980, the cost of solar energy has dropped from $22 to $3 per watt. It is an almost perfect exponential drop, on average, trending at an average of a 7 percent drop in the dollars per watt cost per year. 2010 data indicates that the drop in price may be accelerating. Two main factors are driving this price drop: solar manufacturers are continually improving their abilities to reduce the costs of developing solar energy systems, and the efficiency of solar cells is rising dramatically. Laboratory results show solar efficiencies as high as 41 percent, and inexpensive thin-film methods (see 1972 and 1988) are achieving up to 20 percent efficiency in the lab, twice as high as most of the solar systems in use today. Moreover, installation costs are dropping as rapidly as technology costs. Naam writes that the trends indicate that the cost of solar will rival that of average retail conventionally generated electricity, about 12 cents per kilowatt hours, by 2020, or sooner. By 2030, solar electricity will cost half of what it will cost to generate electricity with coal. Naam writes: “Solar capacity is being built out at an exponential pace already. When the prices become so much more favorable than those of alternate energy sources, that pace will only accelerate.” Naam concludes: “The exponential trend in solar watts per dollar has been going on for at least 31 years now. If it continues for another 8-10, which looks extremely likely, we’ll have a power source which is as cheap as coal for electricity, with virtually no carbon emissions. If it continues for 20 years, which is also well within the realm of scientific and technical possibility, then we’ll have a green power source which is half the price of coal for electricity. That’s good news for the world.” [Scientific American, 3/16/2011; Investopedia, 2013]

Entity Tags: Ramez Naam, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Gordon Moore

Category Tags: Commercial Involvement, Silicon Technology

In a press release, Kyocera Solar announces the opening of the Arlington Valley Solar Energy II (AV Solar II) installation in Maricopa County, Arizona, near the Hassayampa Substation. Kyocera, one of the world’s largest producers of solar photovoltaic (PV—see 1954) modules and systems, operates the facility in conjunction with LS Power and the state of Arizona; Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) is on hand to officially open the facility. Block 1 is online; Blocks 2 through 5 are expected to be complete by the end of the year. Kyocera Solar vice president Steve Hill says: “Today’s opening of the AV Solar II mega-installation marks a major milestone in Kyocera’s four decades of manufacturing high-quality, long-lasting solar modules. We’re proud to provide US-made products to this utility-scale installation, which adds to the mega-installations around the world showcasing Kyocera’s unrivaled solar solutions including a 204MW project in Thailand and a 70MW installation in Kagoshima, Japan.” When complete, the facility will be one of the largest solar PV installations in North America and will provide 127 megawatts of power for the surrounding community. Brewer tells the press: “Thanks to our strategic location, pro-business climate, skilled workforce, and strong incentives for solar development, Arizona is a national leader in the solar industry. As an Arizona-based company, Kyocera Solar understands how critical this industry is to a secure economic and renewable energy future.” [Business Wire, 5/1/2013]

Entity Tags: Steve Hill, Arlington Valley Solar Energy II, Jan Brewer, Kyocera Solar, LS Power

Category Tags: Public Finance, Commercial Involvement, Solar Industry, Silicon Technology

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