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U.S. market for solar likely to double this year

Photo by Solarworld USA.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. market for solar panels is likely to double in 2012, thanks to government policies and falling prices, although new tariffs on panels imported from China could contribute to slower growth in 2013, according to a new study.

U.S. developers are likely to install about 3,300 megawatts of solar panels this year, nearly double the amount installed in 2011, according to the study released Wednesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. ...

Government subsidies, such as a federal tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of each system, and state and local incentives have been driving growing demand for solar. Better prices also have played a role.

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Solar-powered lasers could save us from asteroids

Image courtesy of NASA.

There are a few key facts to know about Earth being potentially hit by an asteroid, which could happen in about 25 years (so yes, if you're reading this, you will probably be alive to see it):

  • It's best to try not being a dinosaur.
  • Bruce Willis will save you.
  • Robert Duvall won't.
  • And our best hope may be solar-powered lasers.
Read more: Solar Power

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Clean energy investments climb, along with Big Oil’s blood pressure

Chinese workers with a solar panel

Last year, global investment in renewable energy passed the quarter-trillion-dollar mark, hitting $257 billion, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

In other words, investors spent about $38 for every human being on Earth. Someone needs to tell these job creators that they're ruining a lot of people's arguments about the green economy.

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Lay off the Konarka: Dem energy message risks defeating Dem energy message

So, what's the state of play on energy in the presidential race? I'm glad you asked.

Broadly, what's happened is that both parties now perceive, accurately, that the public is pro-energy. That's why both parties are grappling for the "all of the above" slogan.

"Pro-energy," in the U.S. public's case, means pro more energy, cheaper energy, cleaner energy, and more secure energy. What the public does not like is the trade-offs between those goals. It doesn't like hearing that it has to give anything up. It doesn't like hearing about "anti-energy" penalties and prohibitions. And it never likes favoritism, waste, fraud, or generic "spending."

Given that all energy policies involve trade-offs between various desiderata, a political party's ability to sell an energy policy to the public hinges on its ability to evoke the right frames. More/cheaper/cleaner/safer energy always polls well. Restraints, added cost, pollution, and foreign-ness (especially Middle Eastern-ness) do not.

This basic dynamic helps explain why Mitt Romney is not dropping Solyndra. Conservatives still see it as one of their bests attacks on Obama. It evokes Big Government spending, cronyism, waste, and failure (i.e., less energy). It tars the rest of Obama's clean-energy programs, nay his entire agenda, by association.

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A solar-powered cell phone charging station inspired by Occupy Wall Street

Photo by Dawn Danby.

Tommy Mitchell wasn't an Occupier, but when he visited Occupy Wall Street, he found out that OWSers were charging their cell phones at a hot dog vendor's gas-guzzling generator, The New York Times reports.

“I was like, ‘Well that’s awful,’” he said. That’s when he began thinking about inventing a device that could harness renewable electricity in a public space without outlets. “It’s so practical that you can see it,” he said.

So Mitchell whipped up a solar cellphone charger, then brought it back to Occupy, where everyone loved it and declared him a hero of the people.

Read more: Cities, Politics, Solar Power

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Could Romney’s scorn for wind power hurt him in the heartland?

Photo by Eric Tastad.

On Thursday, President Obama will visit TPI Composites, a wind manufacturer in Newton, Iowa (population, 15,254). There, he will reiterate his support for the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a federal support program that has helped drive wind's rapid expansion in the U.S. The PTC is now in peril, as Congress appears unlikely to renew it when it expires at the end of this year. The loss of the PTC would put tens of thousands of current jobs -- and almost 100,000 future jobs [PDF] -- at risk.

Newton's experience is illustrative, so let's recount a little history.

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U.S. military kicks more ass by using less fossil-fuel energy

soldier with solar panelGoing solar in Afghanistan. (Photo by U.S. Marine Corps)

This is my contribution to a dialogue on the military and clean energy being hosted by National Journal.

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To understand the promise of renewable energy for the U.S. military, it helps to start as far from Washington, D.C., as possible. (This is true for most forms of understanding.) Start far from the politicians, even from the military brass, far from the rooms where big-money decisions are made, far out on the leading edge of the conflict, with a small company of Marines in Afghanistan's Sangin River Valley.

Not long ago, for a three-day mission out of a forward operating base in Afghanistan, each Marine would have humped between 20 and 35 pounds of batteries. One of the reasons Marines are so lethal in such small numbers today is that they are constantly connected by radios and computers. But radios and computers require a constant supply of batteries, brought by convoy over some of the deadliest roads on earth and then piled on the backs of Marines in highly kinetic environments.

In late 2010, India Company, from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, tried something new. They packed Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems, or SPACES -- flexible solar panels, 64 square inches, that weigh about 2.5 pounds each. One 1st Lieutenant from India 3/5 later boasted that his patrol shed 700 pounds.

"We stayed out for three weeks," he said, "and didn't need a battery resupply once."

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Department of Commerce slaps large tariffs on Chinese solar panels

A version of this article originally appeared on Climate Progress.

In a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Department of Commerce has issued a preliminary decision to apply tariffs to Chinese-made solar modules being imported into the U.S. The tariffs range from 31 percent to 250 percent.

The preliminary tariffs were issued after a lengthy investigation by the Commerce Department into whether Chinese companies are “dumping” solar panels into the U.S. market below cost. These tariffs follow a March decision to issue small countervailing duties on Chinese module producers that are getting illegal domestic subsidies, according to the Commerce Department.

Read more: Solar Power

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Solar-powered implants could help blind people see

We talk a lot about the wondrous benefits that solar energy can bring to the world, but a new research project from Stanford University bumps solar's do-gooder powers to a whole new level: Solar power could help blind people see.

Right now, retinal implants can restore some degree of sight to blind people. But the implants need to be wired to an outside power source in order to keep charged. Plus, they're big and unwieldy. New solar-powered implants could be much smaller and get power from light, eliminating the need for wires. These implants could also produce images with higher resolution than current implant technology can manage.

Read more: Living, Solar Power

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Buzzword decoder: Your election-year guide to environmental catchphrases

bees saying buzzwordsDon't expect the environment to be in the spotlight in political campaigns this year. The economy will be the star in 2012, with the culture wars singing backup.

Still, environmental issues are getting talked about, often obliquely as part of larger discussions about energy -- though the words don't always mean what you might think they mean. And the words politicians don't say can tell you as much as the words they do.

Here's a guide to energy and environmental buzzwords you'll be hearing, or not, this election year: