In just the last few years, innovation in alternative-energy technologies have gained significant footholds in product development lifecycles and are rapidly changing our individual roles as energy consumers and producers. Out of the box thinking and breakthrough discoveries are on the rise in solar, wind, biofuel, and other alternative-energy technologies.
Such advances are certainly poised to further disrupt the conventional energy complex. Combined with the dynamic upheavals in the globalized economy, the impact of recent alternative-energy innovations may render much of the green agenda irrelevant and obsolete.
In this article, we examine just a few of the recent innovations in alternative-energy generation that show great practical promise, not simply to replace conventional forms of energy generation, but that change our thinking about renewable energy.
Let the Sunshine In
For as long as I can remember, harnessing the power of our local G-type star has generally implied the use of photovoltaics (PV). Turning solar radiation into a direct-current voltage has gone from a grammar-school curiosity - introduced to my generation in Frank Capra’s Bell Science Films classic, “Our Mr. Sun” - to the world’s fastest growing energy-production technology. Photovoltaic device manufacturing doubles approximately every two years, and has been increasing on average by 48 percent per year since 2002. Efficiencies of PV arrays have increased, as have power densities per unit area (especially with recent advances in solar concentration). The price per PV-watt has decreased considerably in the last nine years, approaching $4.00 per watt. Major utility companies are ramping up PV deployments to their grids, and upping the percentage of all electricity generated by PV sources. Pacific Gas & Electric of California added 85.2 megawatts of PV-watts, the most of any U.S. utility company in 2009. By many metrics, it would seem that the current renaissance in PV adoption has a long run ahead of it.