The Ignite Clean Energy Competition provides a glimpse of up-and-coming breakthrough energy technologies. Since its inception in 2004, the emphasis of this annual contest has been encouraging invention of technologies that help eliminate civilization’s dependence on non-renewable fuels. While recently presented Ignite Clean Energy Competition technologies range from bio-energy to hydroelectric power to energy scavenging, solar energy cost reduction technologies have reined supreme, suggesting that a breakthrough in this area may be imminent.
The winner of the 2007 Ignite Clean Energy Competition was RSI Silicon, Inc, which is pioneering a process to manufacture inexpensive solar-grade silicon. According to the RSI Silicon pitch, their technology will reduce the cost of photovoltaic silicon to one-third its current price.
The 2006 Ignite winner, Stellaris Corporation, pitched a technique to reduce traditional solar module manufacturing costs. They commercialized the ClearPanel™ module, which they claim provides significant reduction in the amount of photovoltaic material needed to produce energy equivalent to conventional solar modules. Among the 2006 runner-up teams was a group called Solasta, which was developing ultra-high-efficiency solar cells using nano-scale elements.
The trend is obvious.
High-cost solar cells continue to prohibit photovoltaic energy from being economically competitive with the Grid in the United States. Inexpensive solar panels are compelling and tantalizingly close. A small breakthrough in one of a number of technology areas would prove disruptive to the solar power industry as well as other conventional power producers by making solar an economical alternative to the Grid.
In response to my recent post, “Solar Panels Bring Light to Remote Indian Village”, a reader with the handle FMD pointed me to a company called Nanosolar and argued that US companies are very close to making solar energy viable. Like the top performing Ignite winners, Nanosolar is another company claming they can reduce solar photovoltaic cost via implementation of new technologies. I agree with FMD; solar is not being ignored by American companies. Yet the question remains: which these competing solar-cost-cutting technologies will prove effective in our grid-dominated market?
Until clean solar electrons are cheaper than dirty Grid electrons, we will not be a sun-powered nation.