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SolarThe months of January and February were busy ones at IBM with a flurry of announcements in hardware, software, services, acquisitions, and strategic alliances. See the list of the current press releases in a separate posting here and complete Index of IBM Happenings (by year and month) here. The major focus of the company is on a “smarter planet“, but underlying that is IBM Research. Much of what happens in the lab finds it’s way into the market as a solution to a problem.
One of the key problems facing all parts of the world today is the economical and clean production of energy. Solar energy in particular has seemed elusive for decades but progress is being made. In fact there may be breakthroughs on the horizon. IBM is not the first company you think of when it comes to solar energy — unless you look at the key challenges at hand and compare them to the core skills IBM has in the areas of microprocessor technology, materials science and manufacturing. Just last month IBM announced it has built a solar cell that set a new world record for efficiency and holds potential for enabling solar cell technology to produce more energy at a lower cost. Comprised of copper (Cu), tin (Sn), zinc (Zn), sulfur (S), and/or selenium (Se), the cell’s power conversion demonstrates an efficiency of 9.6 percent. That may not sound like much but it is 40 percent higher than what was previously possible.
“In a given hour, more energy from sunlight strikes the earth than the entire planet consumes in a year”,  says Dr. David Mitzi, who leads the team at IBM Research that developed the new solar cell. In spite of this, solar cells currently contribute less than 0.1 percent of the electricity supply. The issue is cost.  If solar energy can achieve a cost per watt comparable to conventional electricity generation, the world will be a different place. It is one of the great challenges and IBM is laser focused on it.
At some point the technology IBM researchers have pioneered may end up on the surface of the shingles on our homes and the roof of our cars.