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To close out the year, Planet Experts is doing a roundup of the most important environmental stories of 2014. This article features some of the biggest news in solar power that we covered this year. For more environmental roundups, check out ‘The Top 10 Things We Learned About the Ocean in 2014,’ ‘The 10 Most Depressing Climate Change Stories of 2014‘ and ‘The 10 Most Uplifting Environmental Stories of 2014.’

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It was a banner year for solar power. The falling cost of solar technology combined with rising demand across the United States and the world made solar the clear energy winner of 2014.

In addition to the solar gains detailed below, the renewable energy is projected to grow even more prominent in the years ahead. Despite the falling cost of oil, French investment bank Kepler Chevreux calculated that $100 billion of investment in wind and solar is worth more than the same investment in oil. Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank predicts that solar power will be as cheap or cheaper than conventional electricity in 47 U.S. states in just two years. Last but not least, two September reports from the International Energy Agency say that solar will generate 27 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050.

While we look forward to that day, let’s count down the top 10 solar wins of 2014:

10) A Net-Zero Oasis Emerges in Anti-Solar Florida

screenshotIn the Sunshine State, experts claim that Florida has the third-highest potential for solar development. With its abundance of sunny days, the state could power itself 25 times over with photovoltaic cells – yet it remains 18th in the nation for solar installations and fifth in national coal consumption. If that weren’t bad enough, the state government has actually voted to roll back its energy efficiency and solar rebates. But all is not lost. Shea Homes has partnered with SolarCity to create a net-zero retirement community in Orlando. Solar panels are built into each of the 1,500 homes and few residents ever pay more than $11 for electricity. Read More…

9) The Netherlands Builds the World’s First Solar Road

A cyclist in Amsterdam

What’s a solar road, you ask? It’s a dirt-repellant, skid-resistant layer of tempered safety glass with a layer of solar cells underneath it, capable of withstanding the weight of pedestrians, bicycles and even automobiles. The “SolaRoad” pilot project began in November in a town just north of Amsterdam. The 100 meter bike lane runs parallel to Krommenie’s N203 provincial road and is expected to generate as much electricity as two or three households could use in one year. If deemed a success, the Netherlands has some 22,000 miles of bike lanes that could be replaced with SolaRoad in the years to come. Read More…

8) Solar Accounts for Nearly Three-Quarters of New Energy in the U.S.

In May, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association reported that solar energy accounted for 74 percent of new energy generation in the first quarter of 2014. In the first three months of the year, 1,330 megawatts of solar photovoltaics were installed, a 79 percent growth over Q1 2013. And for the first time since SEIA and GTM started keeping records, residential installations outnumbered commercial installations. Read More…

7) Scientists Develop Spray-On Solar Cells

sprayEarlier this year, scientists from the University of Toronto announced a breakthrough in solar technology: colloidal quantum dots. These dots, known as CQD, are “stable light-sensitive nanoparticles” that suck up solar energy when applied to open-air surfaces. In December, the University announced another breakthrough, that it had developed an easy, affordable way to apply the dots: SprayLD, which sprays solar cells as easily as “printing a newspaper by applying ink onto a roll of paper.” Read More…

6) In Six Months, China Installs the Equivalent of Australia’s Total Solar Capacity

In the first half of 2014, China added 3.3 gigawatts of new solar power to its grid, the equivalent of Australia’s total solar capacity in 2013. Read More…

5) India Raises Its National Solar Mission Target to 15 GW

indiaIndia is currently the third-largest carbon polluter in the world, just behind China and the United States. Yet in this rapidly industrializing nation, more than 400 million citizens lack access to even basic electricity. An ambitious new government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is trying to change that with the deployment of nationwide solar arrays. Originally, the country’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy pledged to build nine new gigawatts of solar power capacity before 2017. In October, the Ministry increased that to 15 GW of solar by the first quarter of 2019. Read More…

4) World’s Largest Solar Plant Opens in California

solarpanelsCalifornia has few peers when it comes to its progressive energy policy, a fact it cemented when it opened the Topaz Solar Farm in September. With a 550 megawatt capacity, Topaz is now the largest working solar power plant in the world. Of course, that’s not California’s only solar achievement this year. On September 29, the Golden State generated 4.9 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power for the first time. Read More…

3) Peru Gives 2 Million of Its Poorest Citizens Free Solar Power

Peru will install some 12,500 photovoltaic (PV) solar systems in its poorest communities and bring electricity to 500,000 households or two million people. The program began in July and has already installed over 1,600 solar panels in 126 communities. Read More…

2) Germany Becomes a Renewable Powerhouse

germanyGermany is unique amongst the world’s industrialized nations in that it has dedicated itself to completely overhauling its energy infrastructure. Germany’s Energiewende, or “energy transition” has multiple goals: to fight climate change, to free the country from dependency on foreign fuel, reducing the risk of nuclear power and “strengthening local economies and providing social justice,” to name a few. Germany had many renewable wins this year, not limited to solar. In the first half of 2014, it generated 81 terawatt hours of its electricity from renewable sources (or 31 percent of the country’s total energy needs). Solar generation has grown by 28 percent; meanwhile, the price of solar battery storage (a traditionally expensive technology) dropped by 25 percent in the latter half of 2014. Where renewables are concerned, Germany has actually been dominating its European neighbors for years now. By the end of 2012, Germany installed 400 MW of solar capacity per million people. The next highest was Italy, at 262 MW per million.

1) Researchers Set New Record in Solar Conversion Efficiency

solarThe solar-to-electricity conversion rate is arguably the most important aspect of solar technology right now. To give you an idea of the untapped potential of solar cells, the best conversion rate currently offered by a commercial PV provider is 21.5 percent. Back in 1989, the University of New South Wales created the first PV system to convert 20 percent of its absorbed sunlight into electricity. Well, the researchers at UNSW have done it again. This month, the university announced that it has reached 40 percent conversion efficiency using a new model of solar capture. The rate was confirmed both in Sydney and in the United States. Read more…

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