Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Solar Pro Sees Good Year for Buyers

Anyone who has made a living in solar power over 30 years has had to have another kind of power of his own: stay power. After all, it's only been since 1996 that solar photovoltaics (PV) have been a true growth industry averaging 25% growth annually. Before that Wall Street and Main Street lumped solar professionals together with treehuggers and hemp growers by mainstream America.

Since 1978 Larry Slominski, of the San Diego suburb of Ramona, has been one of those solar pioneers with equal parts passion, know-how and vision. His success stems from an engineering background; a stint with the Peace Corps in Micronesia working on "off-grid" village solar systems; National Energy Planner for the Federated States of Micronesia; public utility regulator in Massachusetts; and over 20 years working for solar module manufacturers and system integrators. Today he is an independent solar energy consultant specializing in utility-scale projects and large airport solar applications.

Slominski sees a good year for solar power in 2009.

"The field looks really bright if you're a buyer. It's a complete 180 degree shift from a year or year and a half ago when you couldn't get modules," he said referring to the dearth of silicon cell manufacturing that could not keep up with the demand for solar panels. Now there appears to be an oversupply of silicon and panel prices are dropping, if only for awhile.

Slominski also admits dropping oil prices, although not directly related to PV, have had a softening effect on the urgency to invest in alternative energy. However, the cost of energy worldwide, the polluting effects of conventional energy production, and the related global warming issue still makes solar a solid, long-term solution.

What can we look for within the PV industry?

"Crystalline (panels) has been the heavyweight in the industry for a long time. But the big charge is coming from thin-film on one side and concentrated solar on the other in trying to reduce the cost of solar power. You could see this beginning to happen three to five years ago and these two competing technologies will reduce the use of crystalline panels significantly.

"Concentrated solar (CPV), in its several forms, is just now proving to be on par in cost with conventionally-produced electricity. I think concentrated solar is set to make a good run as witnessed by the recent 70 megawatt installation in Nevada. We're going to see CPV becoming a major producer of power on a utility scale," Slominski foresees.

Leading up to the elections last year, Slominski said all of the candidates spoke to renewable energy so that's a good sign that that issue has gone mainstream. He sees a public and private partnerships for renewable energy advancement.

"As for coal, it's going to be hard not to see that it's an old and outdated way to produce electricity. Coal will continue to be a major component of energy production for the next fifty years but it will continue to get pressure related to the greenhouse gas emissions and gross pollution of the air where plants are located. Clean energy technologies being developed now and over the next generation will simply replace coal, Slominski concluded.


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