A few months ago, a document from one of MiaSole's investors fell into our hands that described how the company wanted to raise $100 million and hold an IPO in the second half of 2011. It also laid out how MiaSole could produce modules in the next few quarters for 80 cents a watt.

The document also contained information about efficiency and it looks like MiaSole has done a little bit better than expected. In September, the investors crowed that MiaSole already understood how it could get to 15.5 percent efficiency.

Today, the company announced that NREL has confirmed that MiaSole has produced large scale modules (1 meter square) that exhibit a 15.7 percent efficiency, or 0.2 percent higher than the earlier visibility. The company's production modules come with a lower efficiency. MiaSole's goal has been to ship 13 percent plus modules by the end of 2011. But the NREL results show things seem to be moving in the right direction. Well-played, MiaSole!

Although MiaSole has experienced its share of ups and downs -- delays, management shifts, slight changes in strategy, people thinking it's an Italian fish restaurant -- it seems to be on track right now. Where is Nanosolar? Where is Solopower? Or Heliovolt? Among the early, well-funded CIGS companies, at least the world has better visibility on MiaSole. It is shipping modules commercially. CEO Joseph Laia also always has interesting insights into solar.

Still, MiaSole has spent an inordinate amount of money on developing its own production equipment. AQT Solar has moved into CIGS production with a few million dollars and fairly generic equipment. Will roll-your-own or off-the-shelf work best? Off-the-shelf pays immediate dividends, but even Suntech has begun to see the value of in-house equipment development.

And speaking about people who've spent lots of money, Solyndra has installed a 370-kilowatt array of its tubular solar modules on an architectural landmark owned by Finpiemonte Partecipazioni in the Piemonte region of Italy. In the U.S., Solyndra has seen arrays go up on less glamorous buildings owned by Anheuser Busch and others.

While Solyndra panels still cost more than other panels, CEO Brian Harrison told us a month ago that the price will be halved by 2102 and that Solyndra is still cheaper to install. The company, though, has laid off employees and scaled back production. Part of its appeal (limited as it is) in the U.S. also revolves around an IRS ruling that allows owners to get tax credits for new roofs. Expect Sanyo and a few others to seek these same credits. Thus, it's hard to say how long the advantage will last.


--General Electric demonstrated a zero-emissions bus that runs on two battery packs: a lithium-ion pack and a sodium battery pack. The combo system could reduce costs by 20 percent.

GE announced it would get into sodium batteries last year. Sodium batteries operate at high heat but can be deployed at wind farms or inserted into locomotives. But they tend to be very efficient for large-scale power storage and have the ability to deliver energy quickly without reducing life span or reliability. A 25,000-square-foot facility could hold enough batteries to store 10 megawatt-hours worth of power. Japan's NGK has largely had a monopoly in the market.

--Bob Metcalfe is stepping away a bit, (becoming a venture rather than a general) partner to teach at the University of Texas.

"We’re having an innovation bubble. That is probably because of the economic situation, but maybe also because of the clean-tech/green-tech energy movement, we’ve reached a point where innovation is on everybody’s lips," he told the Wall Street Journal at the top of the interview. "The main message I’d like to get across is that innovation makes the world go ‘round. It’s very important that we do a lot of it and stimulate it and support it properly," he added at the end.

Class, discuss.

--Finally, COP 16 in Cancun is occurring. The UN wants to see carbon-free upside-down margaritas by 2017. Philips employees attending the event also sent us this:

UNEP released data about their En.lighten program, a public-private partnership with major energy leaders Philips and OSRAM. They noted that “Indonesia could save $1 billion a year and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by eight million tonnes of CO2 annually -- the equivalent of taking two million cars off the road a year -- by switching to energy-saving bulbs. South Africa might save US$280 million a year and remove emissions equal to 625,000 cars annually by following a similar path.”

Globally, a switch to energy-efficient lighting could lead to a 40% reduction in energy consumption. This reduction in consumption is combined with a savings over of $128 billion in euros and a 670-million-ton reduction in carbon emissions. Finally, switching to efficient lighting means that over 640 power plants would no longer be necessary.

While it may be difficult to understand this on a global level, it has very individual impacts, economically and environmentally. Economically, the switch to CFL lights might have a higher up-front investment but payback is in only a few months. Yes, the average cost of an energy-efficient light bulb is 3x that of an inefficient light bulb.