Expect to hear a lot more out of Sharp Solar in the future.

The solar division of the Japanese conglomerate has long been a large, but relatively quiet, member of the solar community. As a result, it got passed as the world's solar company by First Solar and Suntech a few years ago.

But back in September, it bought solar developer Recurrent Energy for $305 million.

Then, in October, new senior vice president Eric Hafner told us the company would start to more aggressively market its panels with head-to-head comparisons against panels from competitors. He didn't say the name, but First Solar was the clearly implicated target of this campaign.

Hafner now tells us that Sharp will play a role in Washington and at the state level lobbying for the solar industry. The company is forming a PAC and will work with others in renewables on getting policy initiatives passed.

"My competition is Big Coal, Big Natural Gas," he said. "This should be a completely non-partisan issue and it is becoming less partisan. I'm seeing people vote on rational behavior."

Sharp will have plenty of company. Several companies and communications executives have been raising the idea that the renewable industry has to take on the fossil fuel industry head-to-head in lobbying and in setting the framework of the debate. Quit being nice, in other words, and start acting like Karl Rove. (We've had five guests posts on the subject since late October.)

One topic that Hafner and others want to raise revolves around the subsidies paid to fossil fuels. Many are indirect, but still need to be aired in the public discussion of energy. Back in 2006, for instance, the U.S. government paid billions to dredge the upper Mississippi River. Far more money went into the project than goes into solar. But who benefits? Deep draught coal barges.

"It is the only reason to do it," he said. "Let's challenge these industries on the market value of energy and start to pay a real price for energy."

The U.S. also now has 20 million asthma sufferers; asthma is an affliction that was somewhat rare before the Industrial Revolution.

Again, we hope and expect to see more coordination between manufacturers, installers and the alphabet soup of trade organizations in the future. 


--General Electric's 9-watt LED bulb is now available at Lowe's. It sells for $34.98 and puts out as much light as a 40-watt incandescent. 40-watt-equivalent LED bulbs are brighter than you think. We were quite happy with one we tested from Lighting Sciences and Lemnis Lighting. (Speaking of Lighting Sciences, I was at City Lights in S.F. buying some bulbs for our cabinets and the sales guy told me that the Lighting Sciences bulbs are flying off the shelves.) We will test the GE model, too.

--Itron, the meter men, and Silver Spring Networks expanded their alliance to include Itron's Centron II electric meters, its 100G gas ERT modules and its 100W water  modules. Silver Spring has had a gas module, but has put less emphasis on gas and water in the past.

--Finally, the Department of Energy is giving out $74 million for stationary and mobile fuel cell development. The number of profitable fuel cells can be counted on your two thumbs, but as Bloom Energy and a few others have shown in the past year, the technology is improving.