Clean energy — the Next Big Thing? 

U.S. Department of Energy’s EERE program gives an interesting run down in their newsletter this week on the state of “cleantech” and historical ties between recessions and great inventions. Entrepreneurs, whether in California’s Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle or Atlanta, are always searching for the “Next Big Thing.” Many believe they have found it in clean energy, or what they call “cleantech.” Within this definition they include such things as wind, solar and bio power, energy storage devices, smart grid electricity, plug-in electric cars and energy efficient buildings.

They may be right. Clean, efficient energy lies at the heart of our industrial and everyday strength, and some of America’s most important new products have been developed during hard economic times. The depression of the 1870s saw development of early telephones and phonographs. In the recession of 1958, the integrated circuit hit the marketplace, changing everything. In slump years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, personal computers burst onto the scene, starting a new era of globalization and major changes in how we work and play.

Among the “big idea” new energy technologies currently being explored are:

  • Space-based solar power (beaming microwave energy down to earth);
  • Advanced car batteries (lithium air);
  • Utility-scale energy storage (distributed, lithium-ion batteries);
  • Carbon capture and storage (underground storage, clean coal technologies);
  • Advanced biofuels (algae-based liquid fuel production).

At the same time, many more down-to-earth products are already moving out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. One example is a new roofing shingle from Dow Chemical Company that incorporates thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) technology into the roofing material itself, rather than having to be added on as an afterthought. DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has, for years, led the way in developing these technologies.

“These shingles are rugged and easy to install. You can walk on them, just like an ordinary shingle,” Dow spokesperson Dave Parrillo said. “They can be installed by a roofer having no special training and using an ordinary nail gun. No electrician is required on the roof, because there is no complicated roof-side wiring.”

The shingles look like traditional roofing and cost far less than current, high-end solar shingles made to fit in with conventional slate or clay tile roofing materials. To see the full newsletter or to subscribe, click here

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