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No More Clunky Rooftop Panels: The Latest Solar Can Go on Everything From Your Home to Your Car to Yourself

Thin-film solar is revolutionizing the renewables industry. How soon can you get in on the action?

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Sure, that's not the type of sparkling good news that sci-fi nuts and green activists are feverishly looking for to drown out what is shaping up to be a seriously destabilizing fossil-fuel apocalypse. But the good news on solar energy is only going to grow as the months pass.

"Today, solar is branching out beyond traditional rooftop systems," Lurie added. "The Toyota Prius is incorporating solar power into its cooling systems. Backpack and bag manufacturers are starting to incorporate solar technology to recharge laptops. Cell phone manufacturers and GPS producers are looking at how to incorporate solar charging into their technology. It's an exciting time."

More excitement is promised, as governments, finally awake following a collective hangover brought on by decades of hyperconsumption and Hummers, step in and help push the solar boulder down the hill.

In the United States, the Obama administration has openly advocated help for those seeking to go solar, and its cities and municipalities are on board, too, finally catching up to those around the world.

"One of the other big innovations in the solar industry is the increasing availability of solar financing, especially from municipalities," Lurie explained. "In communities like Berkeley, Calif., and Boulder County, Colo., if a homeowner wants to go solar, the city or county will pay the solar installer's up-front costs. The homeowner then has lower utility bills so they can easily pay back the costs of the solar system with their savings. I expect we'll see many more communities implementing similar approaches in the future."

Add in growing investor interest, thanks to the collapse of conventionally dirty economic bubbles in housing and commodities, you have all the right ingredients for a green-rush fueled by an endlessly renewable resource that dominates most of our waking lives.

Now that we've reached the point where even the International Energy Agency is shamelessly talking about peak oil production, investors and nations alike are looking to move beyond petroleum as soon as possible.

"With very few exceptions, governments around the world are stepping in attempting to help move their nations away from fossil fuels to some degree," McDermott said. "Even in the oil-producing states in the Middle East, there's an acknowledgment that something comes after fossil fuels. The bigger issue is whether nations are moving quickly enough the reduce emissions the 25-40 percent by 2020 that scientists say is required to prevent catastrophic climate change. And to do so quickly enough to bring enough renewable energy online to offset the declines in oil and other fossil fuels, which even the International Energy Agency now admits are just over the horizon."

These are major questions, so there's simply no great reason to pop the cork on the champagne and celebrate humanity's dodged bullet. We're still directly in the crosshairs of a disastrous climate change that's already been priced into the market, so to speak.

But the faster we move on innovations like thin-film solar, the better off our lives will be in the long run. There's just no time to waste. Good thing we're already swimming in hope and change.

"The solar boom is here," Lurie concluded. "And it's only going to accelerate."

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.

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