Solar activity flares up

Last month the U.S. House of Representatives voted to create the H-Prize, a $50 million program of awards aimed at encouraging hydrogen-based energy innovations.

Jun 1st, 2006

Last month the U.S. House of Representatives voted to create the H-Prize, a $50 million program of awards aimed at encouraging hydrogen-based energy innovations. Modeled after the $10 million X Prize for private spaceflight, the H Prize still needs Senate approval. In its current form, the grand prize would be awarded for creating a “transformational technology” that brings hydrogen fuel or hydrogen vehicles, or the infrastructure to distribute hydrogen fuel, closer to reality. Only six members of the House voted against the program-testament to America’s increasing awareness of the need to develop energy alternatives in light of skyrocketing oil prices and supply uncertainties.

Although there are a number of alternatives at various stages of development, nearly all are still in relative infancy. One source of “renewable” energy that’s been around for more than a century is the solar cell. Interestingly, even given its long history, the solar cell is still struggling for widespread adoption-mostly due to its poor efficiency. Now, though, innovative research is targeting photovoltaic cells that may gain wider acceptance, making them more appealing and creating significant commercial opportunities (see p. 119). In one example, JDS Uniphase (San Jose, CA) announced last month that it had achieved record solar cell conversion efficiency of more than 50% (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/254346). And from the perspective of a venture capitalist, photovoltaics had a “banner year” in 2005 according to Steve Eglash of Worldview Technology Partners (Palo Alto, CA), who was speaking at the recent Photon Forum in Boston, MA (see p. 28). Perhaps 2006 will be even better. Innovalight (Santa Clara, CA) just closed a $7.5 million private equity financing to accelerate development of cells based on a silicon ink. And earlier this year the World Economic Forum recognized the firm as a 2006 Technology Pioneer for its potential to substantially reduce the cost of clean, renewable energy production (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/254914).

Stephen G. Anderson
Associate Publisher/Editor in Chief
stevega@pennwell.com

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