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July 01, 2011

I've Got Solar Energy on a Cloudy Day

Solar_panels_cropped3 The U.S. solar industry has really taken off so far in 2011: "Jobs are up, installations are way up for PV and CSP, manufacturing growth is up and prices are coming down." It's like a big party.

Wondering how to enjoy the solar-energy fiesta when all you got is a roof overtaken by nearby trees and overcast weather? Does the shade make you blue because you figure you can't join in? Give it time. Panel efficiency keeps getting better. Check out this story:

German solar powerhouse Q-Cells launched its Q.SMART CIGS thin film panels in Europe 18 months ago, but just introduced the product to the U.S. market yesterday.

At up to 14.7 percent efficiency, the panels are the most efficient thin film product on the market, but what's most interesting about them is their ability to produce power even when mounted on east-facing roofs in areas with poor lighting conditions. By tapping roofs heretofore considered unsuitable for solar -- particularly thin-film solar -- Q-Cells hopes not to compete in the U.S. market, but to create a whole new segment within it.

Says Marc van Gerven of Q-Cells North America:

"The last ten years have been all about efficiency and cost, and I think the next 10 years will be about new applications," he says. "This technology enables us to go after spaces that aren't deemed feasible, and I think this is what the industry is about right now: opening up new applications, new solutions, new markets. The solar industry is still very much in growth mode, especially in North America."

To imagine what the technology will be able to deliver in just five-years time is exciting. Speaking of solar accessibility, take a look at this Q&A with a solar expert about the dawning of "community solar gardens" -- an alternative way to go solar without the need of putting it on your roof. And check out Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune's column on solar's sunny future.

-- Brian Foley

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