If you're considering a solar intsallation for your home or business, it's probable that you will do some research before taking the plunge. Afterall, it's likely to be a sizeable investment, so even if you're already pretty sure of what you want you may want to see what all the options are first. This may involve some basic web browsing, followed by a visit from a local solar contractor (or two). Or you may want to dig deeper yourself and do more extensive research before talking to anyone.
Although using the sun's energy is an idea that has been around since mankind evolved, it can be argued that the huge solar industry as we know it today grew out of a demand for energy alternatives after the oil embargo of the early 1970's and the further oil crises of later that decade. The challenge back then, and it is still somewhat the case today, was to convince a wary public that solar technologies are cost-effective – that they work & are worth the money! Afterall, an alternative energy source is only truly 'alternative' if it can deliver largely the same level of energy for around the same or less investment.
Like the computer industry during the 80’s and 90’s, the solar industry is going through huge and rapid change and evolution on a worldwide basis. These developments can make any research into the solar field a daunting task. New companies are formed daily, others seem to disappear quickly, and it can be difficult to know who to listen to & who to steer clear of.
The following groups, in addition to the resources of SolarEnergy.com, make for a great jumping off point in any solar power research. They are a rich source of techincal and commercial information, and can offer great reassurance to you as a consumer that the solar path is a viable alternaive to the utility company you currently use. Not to mention a much more economical option.
NREL – These guys are a essentailly a huge US Government lab – it stands for National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is the main lab for the US Department of Energy's research and development programs. They research renewable energy all day long, and are a great source for background study, not only for solar but all areas of alternative energy solutions, providing unbiased insights into solar technologies.
Dsire – This is the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy. If you're interested in what incentives the various utility companies around the USA are offering to people looking at investing in solar products, check out DSIRE's website here. There are also useful links to other State incentives, and some local government funds which become available from time to time. It's an ever-changing landscape, so check back often during your solar adventure!
SRCC - The Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) was established to set national ratings standards for solar products. It is a non-profit corporation with the goal of certifying solar thermal products independently. These specifically include solar collector panels for domestic and commercial solar hot water and pool heating systems.
ASES - ASES is the American Solar Energy Society – another non-profit group who's mission is “to inspire an era of energy innovation and speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy.” They advance education, research and influence national solar energy polices through work with political organizations in Washington DC.
The Solar Foundation provides some great research tools and educational links – their goal as a non-profit is education, research and market transformation, all associated wih solar energy projects.
If you want to get a handle on how utility companies view solar strategies and make them part of the long-term plan for their business, check out SEPA's site. The utilities are under increasing pressure as the solar industry grows, and some are handling the competition better than others!
The SEIA – Solar Energy Industry Association – is another non-profit that works to develop the business of solar energy in the USA. With over 1000 companies as members and growing, they provide a wealth of research data including a quarterly Solar-Market Insight report. Although this is probably more of a solar-trade group, you may find some useful data here which can help you when you begin talking with a local solar contractor.
For up-to-the minute information, check out Greentech Media's site for current market & policy information. There's a bunch of good news articles, and many reviews of solar companies and products.
PV Tech are a UK-based company who comment on the international solar industry and offer product reviews & analysis of solar photo-voltaic tech companies.
And finally, this is more for fun than research: If you're looking for a challenge for a college team or class, check out the government's Solar Energy Decathlon – a great annual event that asks the participants to blend appeal, affordability & design with the best energy production and efficiency.