Solar Energy is coming into viability. I feel strongly that Solar and Wind, in combination with bio fuels from truly renewable sources, (Algae, Manure, Segregated Waste.) can provide a huge slice of our energy needs.
As recently as 2 years ago I had dismissed solar as ridiculously expensive and non sustainable but advances in technology and thinking have converted my outlook to radically PRO SOLAR.
The solar arena is divided into two major groups. The one we see every day and everywhere is called Photo Voltaic, (PV). This type uses silicon wafers with micro circuits to convert light to electricity.
The second is called Solar Thermal. This is the process of using focused sunlight to heat water into steam that then goes through turbines similar to those used in the big power plants of today.
Examples of companies leading the pack in Solar Thermal are www.skyfuel.com with concentrating solar trough technologies that generate high temperature steam that can generate electricity directly or be combined with other steam generating technologies to reduce GHGs and fossil fuel use while utilizing existing infrastructure to reach rapid and lower cost integration. In fairness, this area has been pioneered by www.Flagsol.com with their SEGS plants in California. Another very promising technology is Bright Source http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/dpt.htm
The BrightSource folks have years of hard experience with real solar trough plants they have developed in the Mojave desert and have chosen to evolve that experience into the Dynamic Power Tower system that has thousands of mirrors that reflect sunlight onto a big tower that makes high pressure steam for power generation. The place to go for the most up to date information on CSP solar is http://www.solarpaces.org . While you are there you might notice that the reason we are not seeing so much development in the US is that the European governments have mandated feed in prices of 0.27 Euros,(almost 50 cents per Kwh). You can’t blame them for hanging out on the Spanish Riviera in the sun.
Some companies in the news and helping to bring the price of PV down are Ideemasun of Germany http://www.ideemasun.com and MegaWatt Solar http://www.megawattsolar.com of North Carolina. Some other major players in this area are SunEdison and Conergy, who both have the depth and ability to provide complete systems.
There is hope for the US, though. By licensing and manufacturing the components in North America we should be able to get our installation costs into more affordable ranges. We are not the highest paying market for solar energy but we are the largest potential consumers and as such are a target for most of the manufacturers.