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Timothy Dalton, Nano-Science & Technology Partnership Program Manager, Master Inventor, IBM

Timothy Dalton, Nano-Science & Technology Partnership Program Manager, Master Inventor, IBM

By Timothy Dalton

Photovoltaic cells (the individual units of a solar panel) have been around since the 1970s. But until now, they have not been cost or energy effective enough for widespread adoption as an energy source. IBM Research’s latest foray into solar technology, a second-generation Ultra High Concentrator Photovoltaic (UHCPV) system, converts 30 percent of the sunlight that hits it to Direct Current – versus the 20 percent efficiency of conventional solar panels.

Gen II Ultra High Concentrator Photovoltaic cells installed at IBM Boulder site.

Gen II Ultra High Concentrator Photovoltaic cells installed at the IBM Boulder site.

Now, what started out as a joint project between IBM Research and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) through the KACST IBM Nanotechnology Center of Excellence has branched to sunny spots in the United States – Boulder, CO, and Tucson, AZ.

IBM’s inspiration to develop these new photovoltaics came from researching silicon technology for CMOS microprocessors after a client posed the question “what can [IBM] do with your technology in the field of renewable energy?” during the 2006 Innovation Jam. Continue Reading »

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Steve Hamm, IBM Writer

Steve Hamm, IBM Writer

By Steve Hamm

Over the past decade, the use of wind power has exploded–driven initially by demand in North America and Western Europe. But a variety of factors, including the economic slowdown in Europe and low-cost natural gas in the United States, have slowed wind adoption in developed economies. So now the emerging nations are driving growth. Now, aided in part by sophisticated weather science, those countries could play a huge role in blunting the effects of climate change.

In fact, a test project that’s being launched in China’s windy northern Hebei province could help clear the way for accelerated wind power adoption worldwide. Jibei Electricity Power Company, working with scientists from IBM Research-China, is using new technology to analyze weather and wind farm operations data in an effort to increase the reliability and economies of using wind energy on utility grids. “This is more than just business. It’s very important for society, for the whole of mankind,” says Henry Yu, a veteran of the Chinese utility industry who now works for IBM.

Today, coal provides about 80% of China’s electricity. Smog chokes the major Chinese cities and huge clouds of soot from the country’s coal-burning power plants have spread as far as the West Coast of the United States. The government is determined to do something about the situation—through a combination of subsidies and directives. As a result, last year China overtook the United States as the world’s largest user of wind power.

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Alán Aspuru-Guzik, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology,  Harvard University

Alán Aspuru-Guzik, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University

By Alán Aspuru-Guzik

What if you could capture and convert sunlight into electricity with a material as inexpensive, versatile and easy to produce as the one used for plastic bags? What if a liquid version of this material could be used to coat surfaces for solar energy production? What if these materials were light enough and thin enough for use in portable devices? And finally, what if these materials were so inexpensive that they could help provide electricity to people in the developing world and others without access to power grids?

Organic solar cells offer us the potential to realize these highly desirable outcomes. With that in mind, we launched the Clean Energy Project at Harvard to discover suitable materials from which to develop devices for generating electricity from sunlight. The Clean Energy Project uses massive amounts of computing power to screen an unprecedented number of organic compounds in an attempt to identify potential high-performance materials.

(This story originally appeared on Citizen IBM.)

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Vince Ward, Project Officer at the Southern Housing Group

Vince Ward, Project Officer at the Southern Housing Group

By Vince Ward

What started out as a community-based energy project on the Isle of Wight has morphed into a bona fide social movement.

Encouraged by the work of IBM Distinguished Engineer, Andy Stanford-Clark, who created a “smart” house that monitored, managed and optimized energy use, three years ago the Village of Chale created the Chale Community Project, which seeks, among other things, to reduce home energy costs by up to 50 percent. While the project has indeed raised awareness and helped residents lower costs, it has also had a serendipitous outcome – it has brought the community together.

From the very beginning of the Chale Community Project – during planning and roll-out phases – we worked on ensuring the local community was on board. Going from door to door, the team would communicate with residents about the plan of action, encourage participation and try to boost morale. Continue Reading »

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Andrea Pedretti, CTO, Airlight Energy

Andrea Pedretti, CTO, Airlight Energy

By Andrea Pedretti

It would take only two percent of the Sahara Desert’s land area to supply the world’s electricity needs. Unfortunately, current solar technologies are too expensive and slow to produce, require rare Earth minerals and lack the efficiency to make such massive installations practical. To address this, scientists at Airlight Energy have teamed up with IBM and Swiss university partners to develop an affordable photovoltaic system that is capable of concentrating, on average, the power of 2,000 suns, onto hundreds of 1×1 cm chips.

The prototype system uses a large parabolic dish made from a multitude of mirror facets. The dish is attached to a tracking system that determines the best angle based on the position of the sun. Once aligned, the sun’s rays reflect off the mirror onto several microchannel liquid-cooled receivers with triple-junction photovoltaic chips. Each 1×1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts, on average, over a typical eight-hour day in a sunny region. 
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Dr. Anna Topol, CTO, Energy and Utilities, IBM

Dr. Anna Topol, CTO, Energy and Utilities, IBM

IBM today christened a new generation of technology innovators, naming 66 new Distinguished Engineers from across the company. The DE rank recognizes people for their outstanding technical accomplishments, as well as their potential for breaking new ground in key areas such as cloud and mobile computing, Big Data analytics, social business, and many more.

This year’s class includes Dr. Anna Topol, IBM’s Chief Technology Officer for the Energy and Utilities sector. A native of Poland and mother of two young boys, Topol holds a doctorate in physics from the State University of New York Albany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and has earned nearly two dozen patents. She joined IBM in 2001. The Smarter Planet editorial team recently sat down with Topol for an inside chat with one of the company’s newest DE’s.

Smarter Planet: Where do you see the biggest potential for breakthroughs in your current area of specialization?

Anna Topol: There is a lot of innovation happening in the energy and utility sector. What has been learned from other industries such as telecommunications and retail, where the use of data analytics has had transformational benefits, is now being applied to help us be smarter about how we generate, consume and conserve energy.
Right now, there is a focus on automation and the use of smart meters, devices and sensors. For energy consumers, this translates into a decrease in change-related outages through increased efficiency and reduced mean time to repairs. Continue Reading »

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Anders Rhod Gregersen, Senior Specialist Plant Siting and Forecasting, Vestas Wind Systems

By Anders Rhod Gregersen

Deciding where to put a wind turbine is a lot like planting a tree: where you plant it is critical to its long term health and effectiveness.

For wind turbines, pinpointing the optimal location enables energy producers to maximize power generation at reduced energy costs. It’s something we at Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark have been working on for several years.

To do it, we mine Big Data and leverage predictive analytics for deep insights. We analyze literally petabytes of information, ranging from weather reports and tidal phases, to geospatial and sensor data, as well as satellite images and weather modeling research. In all, 160 factors are analyzed that influence location, plant performance and service life. Continue Reading »

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By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

During the past year, we’ve profiled nine exceptional “People for a Smarter Planet” who exemplify the spirit of change, innovation, creativity and curiosity that lie at the core of building a smarter planet. They are inventors and researchers, academics and executives, thought leaders, dreamers, risk-takers, pioneers.

These individuals come from a wide range of fields and possess an array of interests and expertise. What they all have in common is a passion for their work and a commitment to make the world a better place.

They include Ruhong Zhou, whose avian flu research may help prevent a global pandemic; Dave Bartlett, IBM’s smarter buildings guru; Bill Reichert, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with novel advice for entrepreneurs; and sustainability expert Sarah Slaughter.

If you haven’t met them yet, here are nine People for a Smarter Planet you should know.

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Klauss Gottschalk, Senior IT Specialist, IBM Germany

By Klaus Gottschalk

The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ), nestled on the outskirts of Munich in the town of Garching, was established 50 years ago by the Bavarian Academy of Science, to provide supercomputing resources to researchers and scientists across the Munich Scientific Network of universities.

Since then, the Centre has been the home of such systems as the HLRB and HLRB-II and has grown to become the premiere computing operations center for researchers across Europe, as they work to answer computational-intensive scientific questions.  

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Volker W. Fricke, Solution Architect, Telematics & Telemetry, IBM Germany

By Volker W. Fricke and Clay Luthy

What would Scotsman Robert Anderson say if he could comment on the history of electric vehicles? As the supposed inventor of the first vehicle with an electric motor back in 1836 he might have been a bit frustrated over the triumphal procession of the combustion engine for the last 100 years. However the progress and raising interest in electric mobility in the last couple of years might put a smile on his face.

Driven by technology breakthroughs, increasing oil prices and a raising environmental awareness, electric vehicles (EV) are moving into the center of interest for consumers, enterprises and governments. For example, the European Union (EU) has set an ambitious goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2050.

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