Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen reports:

Alphabet Inc.’s secretive X skunk works has another idea that could save the world. This one, code named Malta, involves vats of salt and antifreeze.

The research lab, which hatched Google’s driverless car almost a decade ago, is developing a system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, according to X executives and researchers.

Where does the salt and antifreeze come in?

Two tanks are filled with salt, and two are filled with antifreeze or a hydrocarbon liquid. The system takes in energy in the form of electricity and turns it into separate streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze, a bit like a refrigerator. The jet engine part: Flip a switch and the process reverses. Hot and cold air rush toward each other, creating powerful gusts that spin a turbine and spit out electricity when the grid needs it. Salt maintains its temperature well, so the system can store energy for many hours, and even days, depending on how much you insulate the tanks.

Molten salt is the medium used for several high capacity solar energy production facilities, so it is a somewhat proven technology. Should be interesting to see what the real-world data shows as far as efficiency goes once this system goes online.

One very interesting tidbit from the article states that California discarded more than 300,000 megawatt hours of solar energy due to a lack of viable storage options.

Apple’s success as a company under Steve Jobs’ leadership was rarely about being first to market. Rather, Apple’s most successful products so far (Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch) were challengers in existing product categories (personal computing, MP3 players, smartphones, tablets, wearables).

Apple’s entry into established categories was disruptive and ultimately successful due to superior design, quality, and empathy for the end user.

Tesla’s dramatic move to develop solar PV roof tiles as part of a complete system has clearly caught the attention of the building industry. However, one of Tesla’s market advantages may prove to be one of its biggest challenges: As the single-source provider for the product, many well-established potential distribution channels — through remodeling contractors, retailers, and others — are eliminated.

Which makes the following news from Scott Gibson at Green Building Advisor so very interesting:

The Forward Labs product, called Solar Roofing, looks like a direct competitor to Tesla’s Solar Roof, in which solar cells are embedded in glass-topped shingles. Tesla started taking orders for its roofing several weeks ago.

Forward Labs says that all wiring connections for the roof are made inside the attic. A roof can be composed of solar and non-solar panels, with the mix depending on the amount of electricity the homeowner wants to produce. Solar and non-solar panels look the same, with roofing available in eight colors.

Non-solar roofing — galvanized standing-seam panels — cost $8.50 per square foot. Solar portions of the roof produce 19 watts per square foot; at Forward’s list price of $3.25 per watt, that’s an installed cost of $61.75 per square foot for the solar collectors. By contrast, the estimated cost of Tesla’s active PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. roofing is about $42 per square foot. (Tesla’s non-solar tiles are about $11 per square foot.) Tesla, however, has not disclosed the output of an individual tile. An analysis by PowerScout estimates that the price of energy generated by the Tesla roof is about $4.75 per watt.

What’s more? The CEO of Forward Labs claims that their product can be installed in about half the time of a conventional solar panel array.

Inhabitat’s Kristine Lofgren reports that the order form and website for Tesla’s new solar roofing system is now live. In a previous article, Inhabitat had the following to say:

The seamless look of the new technology is thanks to “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware” according to Tesla’s website. Electrek said these features come from Zep Solar, a mounting equipment company SolarCity acquired before Tesla’s acquisition. Zep Solar engineers designed the rail-less system Solar City employed to slash solar installation times in half.

(more…)

Business Insider’s Danielle Muoio on Friday provided the following update regarding Tesla’s ambitious and potentially disruptive photovoltaic glass roof tiles:

CEO Elon Musk tweeted in March that the company would begin taking orders for its four solar roof shingle options this month. But during a TED Talk Friday, Musk said that two of the tile options won’t be available for purchase until early 2018.
(more…)

While Germany is still in the lead when it comes to solar installations, the U.S. is fast approaching. GigaOm’s Katie Fehrenbacher reports that in the third quarter of 2013, 930 MW of solar panels were installed across the country.

The big news is that residential solar installations are picking up:

The largest number of American homes in history had solar panels installed on their rooftops in the third quarter of this year, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research. That record quarter delivered 31,000 new solar panel home installations, and means that the amount of solar panels installed on residential homes rose by 49 percent from the year earlier.

Via GigaOm

A team of researchers led by Stanford professor Shanhui Fan and Paul Braun at University of Illinois may have stumbled onto a real breakthrough in the efficiency, safety and long-term sustainability of solar panels.

Conventional solar cells based on photovoltaic technology have come a long way in recent years, but they’re still missing a big chunk of the electromagnetic spectrum. The silicon semiconductors in a solar cell are geared toward taking infrared light and converting it directly to electricity. Meanwhile, the visible spectrum is lost as heat and longer wavelengths pass through unexploited. A new nano-material being developed by a group of researchers spread across the country could act as a “thermal emitter,” making solar power significantly more efficient by scooping up more of that wasted energy.

What is so significant about this new approach?

This approach to improving solar cells is appealing for a variety of reasons. Both tungsten and hafnium dioxide are extremely plentiful and safe to work with. Thermal emitters also work with existing solar cell technology, making it simple to add them to existing systems. The researchers will continue evaluating other types of ceramics to further improve the heat tolerance of thermal emitters, which may finally see use in photovoltaic systems.

Source: ExtremeTech

San Diego-based Sempra Generation announced Wednesday that workers have finished building a 48-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

The plant’s output will be sold the Pacific Gas & Electric.

It is located next to a 10-megawatt solar farm and a 480-megawatt natural-gas plant.

Sempra says the plant, which covers more than half a square mile, is the biggest of its kind in the United States. It was built in less than a year by First Solar of Tempe, Ariz., which also supplied the solar panels.