Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This is some s*&t!

idealab, Google, and a (Possible) Energy Breakthrough

I just met with Bill Gross, chairman of idealab, and we talked extensively about eSolar -- the company that last week got a $10 million investment from Google. Gross believes eSolar can be the biggest thing he's ever done -- literally a possible world-changing company.

It's the first time Moore's Law has been used to solve the problem of renewable energy, Gross says. Solar-powered electric plants have always cost more than making electricity with natural gas -- and a LOT more than making it with coal. One reason, Gross explains: Solar plants have tried to become more efficient by making ever-bigger mirrors for collecting sunlight. But these giant 12-foot by 12-foot mirrors are hugely expensive to make and align to catch the sun's rays.

eSolar is trying a different approach. It's making solar electric plants using an array of 10,000 mirrors -- each about the size of a refrigerator door. Three digital cameras look out over the array. High-powered software analyzes images from the cameras and constantly moves the mirrors (which sit on motorized mechanisms) to perfectly catch the sun and reflect it to a collecting tower.

Gross says the approach should make electricity more cheaply than gas-fired plants. Within two years, the cost should be below coal plants. That would be the tipping point that would convince power companies around the world to build solar plants instead of carbon-burning plants.

eSolar is putting up its first array on 160 acres in California. In two months, it will conduct its first test, and plans to up and running in four months.

The approach has obviously already wowed Google. It is being hungrily watched by the entire power industry. About the technology, Gross says: "This is going to happen, whether it's we do it or someone else does it."

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