Is solar energy having its day in the sun?
Solar (Freakin') Roadways
This week has seen the explosion of an internet video and crowd funding campaign by Solar Roadways. With a video explaining their concept - Solar Freakin' Roadways - this small group of engineers have just raised $1,000,000 (now $1.3m) in seed funding for their elegant idea to pave roads, parking lots, you name it with solar panels. Have a watch, it's great.
Now I'm not sure whether it's our own excitement around the solar project we've got going on right now (solar light sculpture 'Ray' with Pollinate Energy at Vivid Sydney - more below), but there seems to be a resurgence in interest in solar energy infrastructure here in Australia.
A brief history of solar energy in Australia (as per a 10 minute Google search)
- in post-WWII Australia played a key role in the global solar power revolution with returned soldiers turning their engineering experience into the solar power industry
- backed by the CSIRO, Australia led global research and fund ideas from US inventors
- Australia had a productive renewable energy hey-day in the 70s and 80s which began to dwindle in the 90s and 00s.
- Despite this, Australia's contributions have been adopted far and wide - much of the technology used now by solar industry giants (Japan, Germany, China and the US) was developed in Australia
- Australian solar pioneers, inventors and engineers such as Danny Kennedy of Sungevity and Jeremy Leggett of SolarCentury have gone offshore in order to see commercial success supported by policy and larger populations of Europe and the US.
Today, more than 1 million household PV solar systems have been installed in Australia. In a stunning turn of events in Australia that runs counter to the desired effect, the coalition government's manufactured panic about the increasing price of energy under carbon pricing has actually hampered the installation of solar panels.
Despite the continuation of policy that does no favours for solar research and innovation, Australia's natural affinity with and capacity for producing solar energy means it will continue to take hold. Sungevity is now an international success story that has returned home. An incredible Australian start up social enterprise Pollinate Energy are installing solar lighting in Indian slums, and learning lessons that are applied by Australian engineers who take part in their young professionals program.
Off-grid independence (energy and other) has become aspirational for a new generation of home owners and alternative lifestyle enthusiasts - just look at the tiny house movement or the beautiful, modern, solar home below created by a group of Swedish students.
Vivid Sydney (Sydney's annual festival of light that attracts 1 million+ visitors each year is hosting its first fully solar-powered light installation (named 'Ray') is thanks to a collaboration which includes Pollinate Energy, amigo & amigo, S1T2, AECOM, PwC and ourselves (Wildwon) and is powered by Southern Cross University's 'Sunflower' mobile solar rig.
The success of Solar Roadways' campaign, 'Ray' at Vivid 2014, and other grass roots solar projects is demonstrating that 'there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come' - as Victor Hugo would say.
We're happy to see that solar is finally beginning to have its moment in the sun here in Australia.
The challenge is now out there to Australia's transport ministry, state governments and cities to put all that roads and infrastructure spending to good use!