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Latest GT Building Aims To Change The Energy World

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Georgia Tech has opened a 42,000-square-foot "living lab" that could have a substantial impact on how Atlantans — and everyone else in the world — powers their homes. And it has skyline views! The Carbon-Neutral Energy Solutions (CNES) Laboratory, the latest addition to Tech's North Avenue Research Area on the southwestern fringes of campus, aims to set a new sustainability standard for all buildings like it. Consider this: The building's huge windows reduce the need for natural light; the roof, exterior walls and even the parking canopy are lined with "crystalline photovoltaic panels" to harvest solar power; and the pavement in the parking lot is permeable to rainwater, allowing an onsite basin and cistern to help capture and conserve that water. Sounds pretty innovative, but there's a catch.

All of this seems timely, because the price of solar panels has dropped about 80 percent in the last two years. But here's the rub: "Electricity from solar panels is still too expensive to compete with power from fossil fuels because the cost of all the other components and activities involved in installation— hardware, labor, permitting and inspection — hasn't seen a comparable decline," the school reports.

The CNES mission is to corral a diverse mix of experts under one roof to "solve some of the big technological problems in clean energy and partner with industry to bring these solutions to the market." What could this mean for us consumers? Long-term, the goal is to cut the cost of solar energy to $1 per watt. On a utility scale, that would make the price comparable to the cost of electricity generated from coal or fossils fuels. Could Atlanta's plentiful sunny days be useful for more than pool-party blowouts?

· Carbon-Neutral Energy Solutions Lab Unlocks the Potential of Clean Energy [GT]
· Recent Georgia Tech coverage [Curbed Atlanta]

[Photos: Georgia Institute of Technology]