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Stanley Said:

What Solar Technology improvements are coming in the next year?

We Answered:

It is hard to know what will be hitting the market within a year's time. I will list below some of the companies that are the most exciting that are working on new technologies.

Your solar installer friend is probably right that within one year things will not be a great deal different. Within that time frame I think there is a good chance that we will start to see thin film solar companies starting to ship in volume.

The big promise of thin-film is the reduction in cost and the ability to make very large volumes of solar panels without hitting fundamental limits.

The solar energy industry will one day be so large that there are concerns that we might run short of certain critical elements although most people expect that these limits will not prove to be insurmountable.

A couple of very exciting thin film companies are:

Miasole - run by a former disc drive maker and very strong technically. Look for their panels to become widely used very soon. They are also looking very hard at the building integrated solar market, where sky scrapers are sheathed with photovoltaic materials.

Nanosolar is working on a sort of "solar ink". They are looking at harnessing the technology used to print news paper and the like. If they are successful solar panels could become vastly cheaper. I think they are more than a year from market, but their technology is extremely interesting.

Power film is already selling thin-film solar products and is ramping up. I think an important niche for them is the wearable solar panel integrated into laptop bags, back packs and the like. You can charge your lap top or iPod with your solar back pack.

There are many other thin film companies and many are starting to sell panels in volume.

The solar concentrator market is another very exciting sector where a number of companies are hard at work. I think most of these products are more than a year away from market. There are a few older companies in the market but they do not appear to have broken the price barrier required to really take off. A couple with a real shot are:

SolFocus - They are working with Xerox Parc research center and are making advanced prototypes of concentrator panels with about 30% solar energy conversion efficiency. That is about double what a conventional flat panel can do. The downside is that concentrators of this sort need to track the sun. SolFocus is aiming primarily at very large installations such as large industries or utility scale power generations. I wish them luck, but that is a tough market place. They are projecting panel costs about 1/3 of current panels.

Energy Innovations - They are working on a concentrator module that uses tracking mirrors. They think the mid-sized commercial market will be their best opportunity. They make a rather odd looking gizmo that like the SolFocus unit is very high efficiency. They expect to put these on the millions of flat warehouse buildings all over the country.

Prism Solar is a company working on a very innovative flat panel concentrator that uses holography to concentrate sunlight to a low level. Their concept looks especially well suited to solar windows and sky lights. It has the potential to half the cost of current panels while equaling their efficiency. They are also more than a year from market.

Power Light Corp. is innovating from a different direction. They are tackling the high cost of installing solar and have come up with a solar shingle that is proving popular with new home builders. There are a number of new housing developments in California using their solar shingles. This is probably the future of solar. All new homes with built in power generation. No muss no fuss for the new home owner, just very low utility costs.

This is just a small taste of what is happening in the solar field. Solarbuz is one of the best industry news sources if you want to follow the market.

Nina Said:

how do you become a solar panel technician/installer?

We Answered:

ive been a solar thermal tech for 2 years now, and we hire guys with the following key skills:
1. are you good on the roof and have at least a small amount of carpentry knowledge?
2. are you willing to learn how to plumb?
3. electric skills not necessary but a big plus

No. 1 is the most important. i can teach a monkey how to pipe copper and run pex. keep in mind this is for solar thermal, not pv. i would imagine being an exp. electrician is the way to go.

solar companies are more than willing to give a person with little exp. a chance if your a fast learner. in house training on the job using your hands, in my opinion, is the only way if your not exp.

Terry Said:

Who are the best solar power installers in the Bay Area, CA?

We Answered:

I would get several bids, and evaluate from there. For me, the criteria would be how thorough and considerate they were. High-pressure sales tactics would be a deal breaker, such as an installer that said a price or discount was only valid on the spot.

I have seen a number of installs, and not seen one that was shabby, so would have to go with business practices and price, rather than quality.

My neighbor's brother got a fantastic deal, but I don't have the installer's name on hand. If you email me through my profile information, I could get the name for you. I don't know if you would get the same deal, though - it could have been because the installer felt guilty for all the delays.

Roberto Said:

solar panel installer cobalt vs. Regrid?

We Answered:

I don't know Cobalt, but know Regrid in my area of California (South San Francisco Bay Area), and will personally vouch for them. They are patient and apply no high-pressure sales tactics. It's like a company of engineers. They won the bid for a church near me, and I've heard no complaints from the church. Note that this experience is from their bid on our own house and the church - they may be completely different in another area.

Cobalt could be better or worse, I just don't know them. Ask for local references, and if you get one, visit and actually look at the work. If it's a two-man shop just getting started, there may not be any references, so you take your chances. I will also say that I've never seen a bad install, even from a startup installer.

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