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Solar Timeline

Solar technology isn’t new. It probably started some time in the 7th Century B.C., when people learned how to use glass and sunlight to light a fire. But today’s sophisticated solar technologies include everything from solar-powered lights and buildings to solar-powered vehicles.

Here, you can learn more about some major milestones in the historical development of solar energy technologies. You will also get a glimpse of “the solar future.”


May 28, 2010

Deputy Secretary Poneman Announces Team led by Oak Ridge National Lab Selected to Receive up to $122 Million for Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of a broad effort to spur innovation and achieve clean energy breakthroughs, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman today announced the selection of a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for an award of up to $122 million over five years to establish and operate a new Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. The Hub, which includes partners from universities, industry and other national labs, will use advanced capabilities of the world’s most powerful computers to make significant leaps forward in nuclear reactor design and engineering.

“The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub is a critical element in our efforts to re-establish American leadership in nuclear energy research and development,” said Deputy Secretary Poneman. “We need to rev up the great American innovation machine to find solutions to our energy challenges and promote American competitiveness. With the Hubs, we are taking a page from America’s great industrial laboratories in their heyday and building creative, highly-integrated research teams that can accomplish more, faster, than researchers working separately.”

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub is one of three Hubs that will receive funding in FY10. The Hubs are large, multidisciplinary, highly-collaborative teams of scientists and engineers working over a longer time frame to achieve a specific high-priority goal, like developing fuels from sunlight in an economical way and making buildings more energy efficient. They will be managed by top teams of scientists and engineers with enough resources and authority to move quickly in response to new developments. Selections for the other Hubs will be announced over the coming months.

Specifically, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub will allow engineers to create a simulation of a currently operating reactor that will act as a “virtual model” of that reactor. They will then use the “virtual model” to address important questions about reactor operations and safety. This will be used to address issues such as reactor power production increases and reactor life and license extensions. The combination of data gained from the “virtual model” and the physical reactor will be used to resolve technology issues confronting nuclear energy development in the near, mid, and long terms.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub will be located at the ORNL site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In addition to ORNL, the members of the team are:

Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, California
Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge Massachusetts
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, Tennessee
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Westinghouse Electric Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Hub will be funded at up to $22 million this fiscal year. The Hub will then be funded at an estimated $25 million per year for the next four years, subject to Congressional appropriations. Read more information on the the Hubs.

March 17, 2010

DOE Releases New Report on Benefits of Recovery Act for Small Businesses in Clean Energy, Environmental Management Sectors

WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy today released a new report highlighting the benefits of the Recovery Act to small businesses throughout the clean, renewable energy industry and environmental management sector. The report found that as of early March 2010, small businesses have been selected to receive nearly $5.4 billion in funding across a number of Recovery Act and related programs, including loans, loan guarantees, grants, contracts and tax incentives, in partnership with the Department of Treasury. The report highlights 26 small businesses in a range of clean energy technologies, such as wind, solar, biofuels, along with critical new infrastructure, like Smart Grid, advanced batteries, energy storage, and energy efficiency tools. It also notes small businesses that are helping advance responsible environmental clean-up efforts.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills are highlighting the report as part of a media conference call. The call also featured Scott Lang, CEO of Silver Spring Networks and Harrison Dillon, President and CTO Solazyme.

“Small business are the backbone of job creation in this country and have been a spring board for innovation in the clean energy sector,” said Secretary Chu. “The work these companies do and the innovation they produce will go a long way in helping our economy grow and our nation succeed.”

“Small businesses have created about 64 percent of the new jobs over the past 15 years,” said Administrator Mills.  “Already, small businesses are one of the driving forces in the green energy sector. With resources like those provided through the Department of Energy and SBA, we have a unique opportunity to support the creation of good, well-paying jobs here at home that will also help keep America competitive.”


Faces of the Recovery Act: Johnson Controls Inc.
January 07, 2010

Thanks in part to a $300 million grant through the Recovery Act, Johnson Controls is re-opening a plant that is now being retrofitted to produce batteries that will power tomorrow’s electric cars.


2009 Solar Decathlon Winners Announced

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman today announced the winners of the 2009 Department of Energy Solar Competition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Team Germany, the student team from Darmstadt, Germany, won top honors by designing, building, and operating the most attractive and efficient solar-powered home.  The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took second place followed by Team California in third place.

The active competition lasted for a week, with the prototype home designs open to the public through Sunday.  Team Germany’s winning “Cube House” design produced a surplus of power even during three days of rain. This is the team’s second-straight Solar Decathlon victory, after winning the previous competition in 2007.

“This competition to build zero carbon homes has been a tremendous undertaking and we have seen terrific efforts by all the teams,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said.  “The ingenuity that comes from individual effort is the promise of our future.”

Over the past two weeks, the 2009 Solar Decathlon challenged 20 university-led teams from the United States and as far away as Spain, Germany, and Canada to compete in 10 contests, ranging from subjective elements such as architecture, market viability, communications, lighting design, and engineering, to technical measurements of how well the homes provided energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, home entertainment, appliances, and net metering.

New to this year’s competition, the Net Metering Contest was worth 150 points towards the final results and was the most heavily weighted contest.  It challenged teams to generate surplus energy, above and beyond the power needed to run a house, which they fed into a power grid.

Team Germany earned 908.29 points out of a possible 1,000 to win the competition, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with 897.30 points, and Team California with 863.08 points.


Solar Decathlon Individual Contest Winners:

Appliances (Awarded Today)
In the Appliances Contest, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the most points based on keeping a refrigerators and freezer cold, washing and drying 10 loads of laundry during the contest week, and washing dishes in a dishwasher five times during the competition – all on electricity generated only from sunlight. The team scored 93.53 out of 100 possible points.

Architecture (Awarded Monday)
Team California took first place in the Architecture contest and earned 98 points out of a possible 100.  A jury of architects judged homes on the aesthetic and functional elements of the home’s design; ease of circulation among the public and private areas; integration of various spaces into a holistic design; generosity and sufficiency of space in the house; and the house’s design surprises meant to inspire visitors.

Comfort Zone (Awarded Today)
Team Germany topped the contestants in the Comfort Zone contest, with 92 out of 100 points for maintaining indoor temperatures between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 40 percent and 55 percent.

Communications (Awarded Tuesday)
Team California’s communications efforts, including communications plans, student-led tours, and team Web site, were judged best by the jury of Web site and public relations experts with a score of 69.75 points out of a possible 75 points.

Engineering (Awarded Today)
The University of Minnesota won the Engineering contest, which was evaluated by a group of prominent engineers, who determined which solar home best exemplified excellence in energy systems design, energy-efficiency savings, creative innovations in design, and reliability of energy systems.  The University of Minnesota scored 96 out of a possible 100 points.

Home Entertainment (Awarded Today)
The Home Entertainment contest required students to use electricity generated by their solar houses to run interior and exterior lights, a TV, a computer, and a kitchen appliance to boil water.  Teams were also required to hold two dinner parties and a movie night for neighbors. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned 92.62 out of a possible 100 points.

Hot Water (Awarded Today)
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the maximum 100 points in the Hot Water contest’s “shower tests,” which aimed to deliver 15 gallons of hot water in ten minutes or less.  Of course, the water was heated by the sun.

Lighting Design (Awarded Thursday)
The University of Minnesota was named the winner of the Lighting contest where teams earned points based on an evaluation by a jury of lighting design experts.  Jurors toured each house to evaluate the aesthetics, innovations, energy efficiency, user-friendliness, flexibility, and performance of the teams’ lighting designs.  The University of Minnesota earned 72 points out of a possible 75 points.

Market Viability (Awarded Monday)
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette won the Market Viability contest, which evaluated whether the cost-effective construction and solar technology in a team’s design would create a viable product on the open market.  Judges gauged market appeal based on three criteria:  livability, feasibility of construction, and marketability.  The University of Louisiana at Lafayette earned 97 points out of a possible 100 as judged by the professional jury.

Net Metering (Awarded Today)
Team Germany took the top spot in the crucial, 150-point Net Metering contest.  Teams were awarded 100 points if the energy supplied to their home’s two-way electrical meter registered zero or less after all of the energy demands of the contest week.  Each house in the 2009 Solar Decathlon was connected to a power grid and equipped with a meter that measured both its consumption and production of energy.  When a team’s meter showed a negative number, the home had generated surplus energy – worth up to 50 additional points. Team Germany scored a perfect 150 points in this contest.

The application process for the next Solar Decathlon, to be held in fall 2011, has already begun. For full event information, current standings, high-resolution photos and videos, an event schedule, and updates, visit the Solar Decathlon website.



The U.S. Department of Energy works to provide clean, reliable, affordable solar electricity for the nation through its research programs in photovoltaic (PV) energy systems. The following pages explain the “how’s” and “why’s” of PV. Whether you are a student, builder, consumer, engineer, or researcher, there is something here for you.

Photovoltaic technology makes use of the abundant energy in the sun, and it has little impact on our environment. Photovoltaics can be used in a wide range of products, from small consumer items to large commercial solar electric systems.

Our goal is to ensure that photovoltaic energy systems make an important contribution to the energy needs of our nation and the world. In these pages, you will learn about DOE’s R&D in photovoltaic energy systems, and much more. You will also find out—

Solar Heating

Solar heating harnesses the power of the sun to provide solar thermal energy for solar hot water, solar space heating, and solar pool heaters. A solar heating system saves energy, reduces utility costs, and produces clean energy.

The efficiency and reliability of solar heating systems have increased dramatically, making them attractive options in the home or business. But there is still room for improvement. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its partners are working to design even more cost-effective solar heating systems and to improve the durability of materials used in those systems. This research is helping make these systems more accessible to the average consumer and helping individuals reduce their utility bills and the nation reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.

To help more Americans benefit from these systems, the U.S. Energy Policy Act implemented a 30% tax credit for consumers who install solar water heating systems. To be eligible for this tax credit, the systems must be certified by the Department of Energy’s non-profit partner, the Solar Rating & Certification Corporation (SRCC). Alternatively, residents of Florida and Hawaii can use their state certification programs.

In this Web site you can learn more about the following topics:

Concentrating solar power

Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the solar energy and convert it to heat. This thermal energy can then be used to produce electricity via a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator.

One way to classify concentrating solar power technologies is by how the various systems collect solar energy. You can learn about basic CSP operations of the three main technology systems, as well as thermal storage related to CSP technologies, in the following links:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Program researches and develops this clean, utility-scale solar thermal technology to foster our nation’s energy security. Our CSP research and development focuses on the three CSP technologies mentioned above, as well as thermal storage and advanced components and systems related to CSP.

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