David Roberts is among the more prolific columnists at Grist's on line operation, where he covers energy policy and suchlike. Quite solid, thoughtful, and innovative is he. So I sat up on reading a piece he had out a few days ago on a novel solar power idea, the spin cell from a company called V3Solar.
(By the way, I immediately wondered while reading it whether he is the same David Roberts who has a new book out on an epic survival trek by Sir Douglas Mawson back in the heroic days of Antarctic exploration. No he is not. Most important discovery I made while name-checking is a site devoted to the huge pile of Dave Robertses making their marks in the world. Very amusing. Grist's Dave Roberts is high on list).
The spin cell, he tells us, could be yet another blind alley or non-starter in the search for solar power that needs no big subsidy to compete with big coal (which, of course, gets to externalize most of its costs to society so is heavily subsidized itself, in a way). But nonetheless he is very excited. I was at first a big grumpy about his piece. To Roberts's credit he acknowledges where he gets his information – from a site called Clean Technica and a geeky-tech but enthused article there by Zachary Shahan. But I read Roberts's piece to the end, griping to myself the whole way that I have read about this before. Yet Roberts says the Clean Technica article that got him off the dime is an exclusive. As in scoop.
Soon enough I unruffled quite a bit if not all the way. Roberts's piece implies that the whole concept, which seems clever indeed, is news only because of Clean Technica's recent (Jan 24) hound dog reporting . But the latter article says it's exclusive is only on precise new calculations from the developer that these modules might produce electricity cheaper than coal. But Clean Technica, as it notes has written on the general concept before. Several other outlets also have done so, months ago, including:
- Gizmag – Paul Ridden (Sept 30, 2012) : V3Solar puts a new spin on PV efficiency;
- Treehugger – Jaymi Heimbuch (Oct 2) : Cone-shaped spinning solar cells claim to generate 20X more electricity ;
- Geek.com – Ryan Whitwam (Oct 4) : Spinning disco ball solar cells could improve efficiency 20x ;
So all the pertinent info, inlcuding the incremental nature of the last week's news, is in Roberts story (even if one needs to follow its links). And he is not the only one to give a new boost to this clever-looking but still market untested idea :
- NYTimes Green Blog (Jan 25) On Our Radar: A Spinning Solar Cell ;
At both Grist and NYTimes it should have been declared overtly that the general idea has been floating around for many months. The news is that the company has made more specific claims about its potential as an economical winner but the spin cell has been out there for quite a time.
It is easy to be entirely with Roberts in one way he does declare overtly. While fantastic-sounding assertions of impending renewable energy breakthroughs are tediously common, this one does get the pulse up. Plus, the modules have a striking, singular appearance. One can imagine one of these cones so big it provides a single, rotating cupola on a building. Good luck to V3Solar. But perhaps the technology needs a more skeptical look from some squinty-eyed reporters. After all, lots of private and governmental labs are trying desperately to cut solar's cost and to increase its efficiency. Their experts will have noticed V3Solar's drum-beating. What do they say? The first reader's comment on Roberts's piece raises exacty the sorts of concerns I feel.