Solar energy use in US sees mammoth growth over a year

The world’s largest solar thermal facility,  futuristic new buildings and phone charging points all led to a massive increase in the US’ solar industry last year. 

In total the usage of solar panels, when compared to the year before, increased 41% in the country during 2013. This accounts for the largest growth the industry has ever seen in the country, new findings by GTM Research show. 

Unsurprisingly, California is still leading the way in terms of areas that have the most solar power. More than half of the new solar set-up in the country during 2013 was installed in the Golden State.

Major projects across the state include Apple’s ‘spaceship HQ’, which will involve solar panels to help power the building and maintain its green status.


Solar was so big that it was the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity in the US, and was only exceeded by natural gas.

Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO, said: “Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to power more than 2.2 million homes – and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of our industry’s enormous potential.”

“Last year alone, solar created tens of thousands of new American jobs and pumped tens of billions of dollars into the US economy. In fact, more solar has been installed in the US in the last 18 months than in the 30 years prior. That’s a remarkable record of achievement.”

The US installed 4,751 MW of solar PV in 2013, which is nearly 15 times the amount installed just five years ago. This was helped by the falling cost of installation, which is now 15% lower than it was at the end of 2012.

flickr-mountain--ash- creativecommons

This year could also see a huge increase in the amount of solar energy being used in the US as California’s project BrightSource, which is believed to be the world’s largest solar thermal facility in the world, may become operational after tests last year confirmed it worked.

The solar park, located in the middle of Death Valley, will be able to power 140,000 homes and cost $2.2bn to create.

The solar uptake has not only been for major projects, as smaller initiatives have also been on the rise. Street Charge, which allows people to recharge their phones on the street, launched in New York last summer and is spreading further afield.

Shayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM research said the increase in solar panel usage showed the acceptance to use solar panels in the wider community.

“Perhaps more important than the numbers. 2013 offered the US solar market the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status.

“The combination of rapid customer adoption, grassroots support for solar, improved financing terms and public market successes displayed clear gains for solar in the eyes of both the general population and the investment community.”

Image 3 courtesy of Mountain/Ash under creative commons licence, via Flickr.

Spiderman’s train-stopping silk set to become a reality

Spider silk technologies, which could see the super-strong material being produced commercially, will give people the possibility of being like comic book hero Spider-Man as it will be strong enough to stop a train.

However unlike the superhero, altering your DNA to produce a superstrong web will not be necessary.

Scientists at Utah State University have been working on the synthetic silk to try and create the strong fibres, and their work shows that they could be as strong as the webs created by Spider-Man.


Randy Lewis, a professor of biology and biological engineering at  Utah State University told Chemical and Engineering News that the spider silk could have he ability to stop a train as in the Spider-Man 2 movie.

“We calculated roughly how thick the fibers were, how many of them he had attached to the walls, how much the locomotive and people weighed, and how fast it appeared to be going.” He added: “Spider-Man would have been able to stop that train.”

The silk, which is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon, is being developed by Lewis and other scientists at the University. The team are looking at how they can synthetically develop the silks for mass production.

One of the most useful applications for the technology could be for use in bullet proof jackets. The strength of the silk, which is a protein, may help to produce jackets that will further improve the lives of those wearing them.

The university says its work could also result in spider silk proteins being able to form durable and long-wearing artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders.

It says the secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use ‘factories’ designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scaleable and efficient. In total, six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. The fibres, which have different mechanical properties, are so effective that they have hardly evolved in millions of years.

The scientists say recent developments could now see the technology becoming useable for commercial production. In 2012 the university created a spin-off company called Araknitek to help develop the technologies.

It has been working with goats that produce milk containing an extra protein that can be spun into spider silk thread. However they’re not the only ones to be working with the silk. German company AMSilk has started to sell spider silk protein to producers of shampoos and cosmetics.

Spider image courtesy of Surftideuk via Flickr under creative commons licence.