IBM uses grid and cloud to boost solar research

IBM it is teaming up with Harvard University to launch a new world-wide grid project aimed at finding ways to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient.

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IBM it is teaming up with Harvard University to launch a new world-wide grid project aimed at finding ways to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient.

IBM also said Monday that it is now piloting its World Community G grid on a new internal IBM cloud -- a network of services and software. The company added that it plans to expand the grid so IBM's cloud computing clients can use it for solar research.

People, universities and companies around the globe donate spare computer power to the overall World Community Grid. Servers on the grid allot tasks to systems that can use their idle time to work on various humanitarian research projects.

Harvard scientists are using the grid to find organic materials that can replace the expensive silicon-based products that have traditionally been used in solar panels, according to Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard and the principal investigator on the project.

"We'll use approximately a sixth of the grid," said Aspuru-Guzik. "The grid is an enabler. It gives us the capacity of a large supercomputer for ourselves. It's a lot of compute power. Without it, it would take me probably 10 times longer to do the work."

Aspuru-Guzik told Computerworld that silicon is an efficient power generator, but it's also very expensive. He noted that the silicon costs about US$3 per watt of electricity generated. The Harvard team is developing plastic solar powered cells, which hold great promise because the material is flexible, lightweight and most important, much less costly to produce.