Published: Sept. 1, 2010 By


CU Boulder’s John Garrey Tippit Memorial Sundial is located east of Norlin Library.

It was Christmas in July around here this year, but the gods are still angry. (More about that in a moment.)

Just before July 4 President Obama announced that Abound Solar, a company that makes state-of-the-art solar panels at a plant in Longmont, would get a $400 million loan guarantee that, among other things, will allow it to double its output and create 300 jobs.

Abound is a hot company. Its founders — Colorado State University mechanical engineering professor W.S. Sampath and two of his former students, Kurt Barth and Al Enzenroth — spent 16 years developing a highly automated, low-cost way of making solar panels by depositing a thin film of cadmium telluride on glass and making it stick.

Every 30 seconds a 2 x 4 foot glass panel enters the production line, and two hours later a solar module pops out — for half the price of panels made with silicon.

So why CSU and Longmont and not CU and Boulder?

Uh, that would be the curse of George Lof, which is sort of like the curse put on the Boston Red Sox after they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. (They didn’t win a World Series again until 2004.)

George Lof was a chemical engineering professor at CU in the 1940s. During World War II he got a grant from the War Production Board to find ways to save oil.

He used it to create the first solar home heating system in the United States,  which he installed in his Boulder home at 1719 Mariposa Ave.

The system consisted of glass roof panels over pipes. Air flowing through the pipes was warmed by the sun and transferred heat to a stash of gravel in the basement. When heat was needed, air was piped through the gravel and into the house.

Great idea but ahead of its time. And evidently not good enough to keep Lof on the faculty.

So Lof put his Boulder home on the market. After months with no takers, his real estate agent gave him the awful news: If you want to sell the place, the solar heating system will have to go. So it went.

Up on Olympus, the gods were outraged. Especially Apollo, the sun god, and his sister Athena, the goddess of common sense.

So Apollo got Lof a job at CSU where he started the Solar Energy Applications Laboratory and turned CSU into a world leader in solar energy research.

And Athena arranged for Longmont to make solar panels and Boulder to spend the 21st century replacing all its light bulbs with ones that look just like the curly French fries they used to sell at The Sink when gasoline cost 30 cents a gallon and solar energy was for tanning.

And, just to rub it in, she installed the sundial by Norlin Library facing north toward CSU.