Not every breakthrough in the solar industry comes from efficiency gains from esoteric new Silicon Valley start-ups (though these are being catapulted by the recent funding bonanza) and university labs.
Some come from understanding that half the cost of a solar installation is just the cost of getting boots up on your roof, like for any other roofing job. One block off the grid reduces that cost by aggregating homeowners into groups to go solar together.
Some breakthroughs come when utility-scale solar companies forge innovative partnerships with housing developers rather than keep on battling NIMBY transmission costs, as BrightSource just did to meet its contract with PG&E for RPS solar power.
Others are starting to happen as titans of industry like Dow Chemical gear up to develop the little extras that smooth the assembly line process to speed up production-lines.
Because in manufacturing, assembly-line efficiency determines production costs:
Dow Chemical makes the silicone coating that protects solar panels in space from disintegrating under unfiltered-by-atmosphere powerful radiation from the sun. Tried and tested by NASA for years, this fine rubbery film is super transparent; so it helps solar panels last longer in outer space, and work at the highest efficiency.
The added durability helps not only in Outer Space, but now, it will also help on the assembly-line back on Earth, because the new coating makes it possible to speed up factory production by a factor of four.
Dow’s improvement in assembly-line speed will benefit not just NASA, but also earthbound rooftops, because Dow Chemical is investing $3.5 million in commercializing their breakthrough coating for the solar industry as ENLIGHT™.
And with government helping to foot the initial R&D costs through NASA, now the prices have dropped from the stratosphere.
Image: Flikr user G A R R Y
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