Solar’s Energy Innovators

by Max Burns

The cost of installing a home solar system has many early adopters feeling sunburned. With fees nearing $60,000, a growing number of alternative energy professionals and policymakers are looking for a way to bring the cost of harnessing the sun back down to earth.

Planet Forward is spending September delving into the topic of renewable energy as a business. We’re looking at how companies are surviving and innovating in a recession, what role cost and benefit play in consumer decisions to purchase alternative energy systems for their homes, where and how government regulates what types of installations homeowners may purchase, and what small businesses need to do in order to remain competitive in an evolving, fast-paced industry.

In the spirit of business, let’s take a look at some pioneering academics, businesspeople and industry analysts working to reduce costs, improve efficiency and simplify complex local governmental regulations constraining alternative energy’s growth.

Professor W.S. Sampath, Colorado State University

Professor Sampath developed a photovoltaic production process that sharply reduces the cost of constructing traditional solar panels. The production method, now underway at AVA Solar, Inc., could reduce the cost of solar panel installation from $4 per megawatt hour to just under $1. Professor Sampath’s panels could bring solar production costs in line with traditional energy expenses within five years.

David J. Grimshaw and Sian Lewis,

David J. Grimshaw and Sian Lewis of recently conducted a study of how the global poor access and use electricity. The team found that that focusing microcredit on solar energy fosters real results: Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has installed over 320,000 solar arrays on village homes and created 4,400 solar jobs. Financing solar is a literal sunshine policy.

Marc A. Baldo, MIT

Dr. Baldo is more than just an engineer, he’s a problem solver. In order to improve solar efficiency, Baldo built a photovoltaic cell that only contains solar receptors at the edges of a flat glass panel. Dr. Baldo’s creation increases solar production by a factor of 40 while lowering production costs. What’s more, Dr. Baldo’s panels can be retrofitted onto existing panels to increase production by nearly 50%.

Alternative fuel innovation isn’t constrained to one academic discipline or professional specialization – thought leaders from across a vast spectrum of professions have come together to improve and refine solar and alternative energy. Do you know any alternative energy innovators that deserve a special mention? Let us know in the comments section below.

How do you move the Planet Forward? Tweet us @planet_forward or contribute to the conversation with your own story.