IBM takes grid to the clouds and aids solar research

IBM teaming up with Harvard University to find ways to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient.

IBM has announced that it is teaming up with Harvard University to launch a new world-wide grid project aimed at finding ways to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient.

IBM also said that it is now piloting its World Community Grid on a new internal IBM cloud -- a network of services and software. The company added that it plans to expand the grid so IBM's cloud computing clients can use it for solar research.

People, universities and companies around the globe donate spare computer power to the overall World Community Grid. Servers on the grid allot tasks to systems that can use their idle time to work on various humanitarian research projects.

Harvard scientists are using the grid to find organic materials that can replace the expensive silicon material that has traditionally been used in solar panels, according to Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard and the principal investigator on the project.

"We'll use approximately a sixth of the grid," said Aspuru-Guzik. "The grid is an enabler. It gives us the capacity of a large supercomputer for ourselves. It's a lot of compute power. Without it, it would take me probably 10 times longer to do the work."

Aspuru-Guzik told Computerworld that silicon is an efficient power generator, but it's also very expensive. He noted that the silicon costs about US$3 per watt of electricity generated. The Harvard team is developing plastic solar powered cells, which hold great promise because the material is flexible, lightweight and most important, much less costly to produce.

Just last week, MIT announced that researchers there are using computer modeling to boost the output and efficiency of solar cells while cutting the cost of solar power.

A team of MIT physicists and engineers say they have been able to boost the output of solar cells by as much as 50% by adding a combination of antireflection coatings and multilayered reflective coatings to silicon films on the cells. The research team said that the advancement could dramatically reduce the cost of using solar power because the amount of very pricey high-quality silicon traditionally used is slashed down to 1 per cent of the normal amount.

Four months ago, MIT reported that a team of researchers there had made an energy storage breakthrough that could transform solar power from an alternative energy source to a mainstream source.

And last July, MIT announced that its researchers had created a new way to harness the sun's energy by turning windows of big buildings into solar panels.

That technology, dubbed solar concentrators, harvests light over a wide area, such as a window pane, and then concentrates or gathers it at the window's edges, Marc Baldo, a professor at MIT and head of the effort, explained in an MIT video. Baldo added that the technology also could be used to soup up more traditional solar panels, increasing their efficiency by 50 per cent.

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