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by Ben Piper September 25, 2006 - 4:47pm, 9 Comments

A solar panel

Amidst increasing concern for alternative energy sources, economists and environmentalists alike are pushing toward the development of highly effective silicon solar panels.

Engineers and entrepreneurs are currently working hand in hand in the Silicon Valley, and their concerns are not purely environmental. Solar power’s biggest criticism has forever been that the investment is not worth the return. However, the more solar technology gains both financial backing and relevant research, the more it gains momentum in becoming the most effective alternative energy source.

As it stands today, even cutting-edge solar technology is 2 to 3 times more expensive than fossil fuels in the U.S. However, growing environmental concerns, rising fossil fuel prices, and falling costs for solar tech are reasons enough for some venture capitalists to get involved. Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems has switched his focus from internet computing to clean technology. Khosla remarked in support of his latest venture:

Is there interest? Yes. Are these economically viable? Yes. Will people lose money? Absolutely. It happens in Silicon Valley every day. I do believe the profile will look as good as or better than the traditional Silicon Valley semiconductor or Internet start-up. If you do a sector-by-sector analysis, I’m saying this sector should stack up on rates of return.

Furthermore, this month, Applied Materials Inc., a Santa Clara company that manufactures chip-making equipment, announced plans to sell tools for producing solar cells. The company projects the market for such gear will triple to $3 billion over the next four years. Chief Technology Officer Mark Pinto said,

By lowering the cost and increasing the volumes, we think that solar power will become much more affordable in more places in the world.

This year, for the first time, the solar industry is expected to consume more silicon than the computer chip industry. This already in mind, some valley solar startups are moving beyond silicon. Miasole of San Jose and Nanosolar Inc. of Palo Alto are developing thin-film solar cells made from alternative materials like copper and selenium. Nanosolar has raised $100 million in venture funding and plans to build what it says will be the world’s largest solar-cell factory.

While much of the solar technology talk today is purely speculative, the latest developments point to a bright future for clean technology.

[via cnn.com]