NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If I had a technology that could cut the cost of solar energy production to as little as 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (KwH), I'd be dropping everything to get it to market.
IBM announced last week it will spend a $2.4 million grant from Switzerland studying a solar energy technology called High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT).
HCPVT combines the concentrated solar energy system used in the newly opened Ivanpah plant in California, where mirrors direct sunlight to a central point and produce heat, with conventional photovoltaics, the technology that turns sunlight directly into electricity on a rooftop near you.HCPVT uses a parabolic dish of mirror facets and a sun tracking system to concentrate power on a collection of liquid-cooled photovoltaic chips. The system collects electricity through the chips and heat through the chip-cooling system. IBM's press release says it can produce energy for less than 10 cents per KwH. That's the same price as coal. The efficiency is nearly twice that of a recently-announced solar cell produced by the Fraunhofer Institute. How excited is IBM by this? Not much. A spokesman wrote that IBM hopes to partner with other companies to make the chips, partner with construction firms to develop the systems, but that "compared with the key IBM growth areas of Cloud, Big Data, Analytics, Security and Mobile, this technology is not at the same scale." I don't think the company is being disingenuous or that it is wrong about the potential of this new system in relation to other corporate efforts. I think the rest of us are missing the point. Renewable technology is marching forward at warp speed. Solar panels erected in 2010 may become obsolete long before their useful life is over. Wind technology is moving from simple, large windmill structures to more complex systems that are far more efficient. Biofuel start-ups are having a tough time keeping up.