3 1366 Technologies
Standard photovoltaic solar panels are made from very thin silicon wafers. These wafers, which are not much thicker than a strand of human hair, are cut from large blocks of silicon, which results in a lot of wasted silicon sawdust. 1366 Technologies is developing a process that makes wafers from molten silicon, greatly reducing both waste and manufacturing costs. The process also produces more uniform wafers with fewer imperfections, which increases the energy production of the solar cells. The company estimates that continual improvements to its process will decrease the cost of solar panels by 10 percent per year through the year 2020, at which point solar energy will be cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal.
2 Ubiquitous Energy
What if every piece of glass – from your office window to your car’s windshield to your smartphone’s screen – doubled as a solar panel? Ubiquitous Energy hopes to make that possible with a solar panel that looks and acts just like ordinary glass. The panel works by absorbing only the non-visible wavelengths of light (i.e., ultraviolet and infrared) to generate electricity while allowing the visible part of the spectrum to pass through it – just like glass. Although the theoretical efficiency of the material is around 10 percent, which is much lower than regular photovoltaic solar panels, the ability to install them anywhere that glass is used could be a game changer.
If you use the Internet, you rely on information stored remotely on computers in “the cloud.” These server farms consume massive amounts of electricity both to power the electronics and to keep them cool. Cloud&Heat, a German company, aims to reduce the environmental footprint of cloud computing by disaggregating large server farms and making good use of the waste heat they produce. Heating customers pay to install fireproof cabinets in their homes or offices, which is where Cloud&Heat stores its servers. The company pays for the electricity used to power the servers and the customers enjoy free space-heating and hot water from the heat produced by the servers. Since Germany also has one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world, technology customers who rely on Cloud&Heat for their cloud computing needs can claim a markedly lower environmental footprint for these services.