Last week the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the winner of this year’s Solar Decathlon was Team Austria. While the decathalon shows what the houses of tomorrow may look like as they strive to become comfortable, energy efficient places to live and play, the rest of the solar world pressed forward as well. The most encouraging news is that the number of businesses with solar installed continues to boom and the amount invested in solar is continuing to grow.
With a score of 951 out of a possible 1,000 points, the Vienna University of Technology’s Team Austria won this year’s Solar Decathlon. This is the first time that the biennial event was hosted away from Washington, D.C and it was time that Team Austria has participated in the competition. The DOE said that this year’s results were the closest and highest that the decathlon has produced. Ten of the 19 teams scored more than 900 of the possible points and the difference between the top three was less than 10 points, with the University of Las Vegas placing second and the Czech Technical University placing third with 945 points.
In other news, much focus in the solar industry has been on giant PV arrays and homeowner arrays, the commercial market has also been quietly, but rapidly growing, according to the latest “Solar Means Business” Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Vote Solar. The report found that overall use of solar at companies increased 40 percent in 2012 and that some of the leading companies in the U.S. are the biggest users of distributed solar. For example, Walmart again topped the list in terms of installed PV capacity with 89.4 megawatts installed at locations across the U.S. It also topped the list in total installations, with 215 installations. Others in the top five in terms of capacity include Costco, Kohl's, Apple and Ikea. In terms of installations, Walgreens came in second, with 156 installations across the U.S.
The solar manufacturing industry may also be seeing a resurgence. The latest Mercom Capital Group Report on Solar Funding and M&A activity found that investments in solar companies, as well as mergers and acquisitions, have increased in 2013. Amongst other things, the report found that roughly 1.3 gigawatts of large-scale solar projects were announced during the third quarter of 2013 and that M&A activities were up during the quarter as well, rising to 23 transactions and totaling $9.8 billion in value.
This resurgence in activity is also benefitting startups. For instance, 1366 Technologies, a Massachusetts-based silicon wafer maker announced, it raised $15 million in funds to support construction of its new, full-scale manufacturing facility where it will produce PV wafers using its Direct Wafer technology. The company plans to start preliminarily producing up to 250 megawatts of PV cells at the new facility to start and to eventually ramp up production to about 1 gigawatt of PV cells annually.
1366 technologies isn’t the only company looking to innovate in the solar sector, however. A new report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Santa Fe Institute found that the number of solar energy-related patents increased an average of 13 percent annually between 2004 and 2009. It appears that companies are working harder now than ever to transfer such technologies from the lab to the commercial world.