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Solar for All? Not in My Lifetime

The U.S. solar industry is down and out. What will it take to bring it back?

3 min read
Photo of auction signs.
Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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On a sunny afternoon in California, I drive past the shuttered factories of Solyndra Corp., the bankrupt maker of solar panels. A billboard-size “For Sale” sign sits prominently on the frontage road of Interstate 880, a main artery into Silicon Valley. Solyndra’s empty factories are grim reminders of how—even in America’s innovation heartland—life on the solar frontier can be nasty, brutish, and short.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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