Spend a week on the sticky East Coast and it’s easy to go off on the sun. But stay cool. If we have any hope of beating our oil addiction, we need that Great Heat Machine in the Sky. Just last weekend, President Obama committed to $2 billion in loans to solar energy companies, including one outfit building a huge solar plant in Arizona. That’ll help.
Here are six stories to remind you that the sun is our friend. Really.
- The plane, the plane: Sure, it’s all wing and has a top speed of only 75 miles an hour, but when the Solar Impulse landed in Switzerland this morning, it set a record for flight time — 26 hours aloft — and altitude — 28,543 feet — for an aircraft powered solely by the sun. And its batteries had three hours to spare. Watch the landing on the BBC’s site.
- Nice glass: A Swiss professor has come up with a way to make low-cost solar cells that can be built into glass windows. Imagine, says inventor Michael Gratzel, all of New York’s skyscrapers covered in electricity-generating panels. (A man can dream, can’t he?) Watch Gratzel share his brainstorm:
- A balance of power: The largest “zero-energy” office building will open later this summer at the Department of Energy’s research center in Colorado. It may sound like a sanctuary for slackers, but it means that the building’s designed to create as much electricity through solar panels as it uses.
- Now that’s a way to clean coal: Also in Colorado, Xcel Energy is running a demo of the first-ever hybrid solar-coal power plant. If the solar power thermal integration works, it could be a big step forward in both cutting the use of coal and lowering carbon emissions.
- Rev up the carbon dioxide lobby: Forget corn and other biofuels. A Massachusetts company claims it has found a way to use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol or diesel fuel. Joule Biotechnologies CEO Noubar Afeyan estimates that its process could yield 100 times as much fuel per hectare (2.47 acres) as fermenting corn to produce ethanol. Watch him explain how it works.
- Got juice? And in California, Envision Solar has made a business out of turning parking lots into “solar groves.” Canopies that not only provide shade, they also generate energy through photovoltaic panels. Now the company is adding stations that will allow your parked hybrid or electric car to charge up instead of sitting around all day doing nothing.
An extra solar tidbit: Which country produces the most electricity through solar? It’s Germany. And not because it’s sun-drenched. No, credit the German government’s major financial incentives.