When Will the Sun Rise for Solars? 

June 17 [Fri], 2011, 16:39

When Will the Sun Rise for Solars?

I'm fascinated by solar power on any number of levels, only one of which has anything to do with investing.

First and foremost, dstti the science geek part of me just loves the idea that you can put a chip of silicon out in the sun and get electricity out of it. And you can keep getting that electricity as long as the sun shines.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, the good people at Bell Labs (anyone else remember Our Mister Sun?) were the science equivalent of Walt Disney: benevolent, competent and full of surprises. (Work at Bell Labs gave us, for example, the laser, the transistor and the UNIX operating system and produced seven Nobel Prizes. But I digress.) The photoelectric effect had been a known phenomenon since 1839, but it wasn't until 1954 that Bell scientists announced their development of a genuinely efficient solar cell. And it was a sensation.

Stories about how a piece of silicon doped with the proper chemicals became a source of "light electricity" were everywhere. And it didn't matter that it cost $250 to get one watt of solar power. At the tiOffshoreSimple: tax haven incorporations, amagiccube, complete packages.me, the world was full of oil and coal, and electricity from the sun was just a curiosity.

In fact,Discuss The hemroidstreatments on the IMDb message boards if it hadn't been for the Cold War-fueled space race and someone's suggestion that using solar cells to replace a battery might extend the useful life of the Vanguard I satellite,Aluminum coldsores is from China factory the entire photovoltaic industry might have been swept into the dustbin of history.

After the '50s, far-sighted scientists, the U.S. space program and a few remote-power products like marine buoys kept the research alive. By the early 1970s, solar panels were being produced at a cost of $10 per watt.

Then came the late '70s and the first Oil Crisis, which kicked oil prices well and truly out of their artificially low levels, and people started to get serious about solar. Solar cells moved out of portable calculators into all kinds of applications like battery chargers for isolated battery-run equipment.

And over the years, dramatic accidents like Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (still going on) have taken the shine off of nuclear power.

Several European countries, Germany, Italy and Spain chief among them, introduced legislation in the 1990s that mandated "feed-in tariffs," which required electric utilities to buy power from solar arrays at a premium price, while other renewable sources received slightly lower rates. These tariffs (which were actually first instituted in the U.S. in 1978 during the energy crisis) were clearly designed to encourage solar, and they worked well.

Chinese solar companies popped up like mushrooms in the rain as China's industrialization picked up speed,Shop for high quality billabongboardshortscloths Watches encouraged by both government support and a scarcity of silicon, and it looked like solar was off to the races.The largest bedding producers worldwide have traditionally been of British origin.

Then 2008 flattened the world.

The 2008 global economic crisis and near economic collapse in the West caused huge declines in government revenues. The retrenchment necessary to reduce deficits often undercut feed-in tariff programs, shrinking demand for new solar arrays.

These days, the efficiency of the best solar cells is approaching the 29% theoretical maximum and the production cost for photovoltaic cells to generate one watt is under a buck. Oil prices have spent some serious time over $100 per barrel, and Chinese factories have tons of excess production capacity, which is likely to keep price competition keen for quite a while. Moreover, Germany has recently announced its intention to completely phase out its nuclear power program.

And finally, Google just announced this week that it's sinking $280 million into a collaboration with California solar developer SolarCity to finance the installation of home solar panel systems.

It should be the best of times for the solar power industry, and thus for solar stocks. But it isn't.

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