The intersection of information and energy technologies

April 30, 2012 | Source: Technology Review

Using computation to drive down solar energy costs (credit: eSolar)

Idealab‘s Bill Gross thinks computational power will solve the world’s energy problems in this century.

Everything is getting more expensive because billions of people are trying creatively to repackage and consume limited, expensive materials, he says. But there is one resource whose price has consistently has gone down: computation — atoms are going up in price while bits are going down.

“The power, cost, and energy use involved in one unit of computation is declining at a more consistent, dependable rate than we have seen with any other commodity in human history. That declining cost curve must be tapped to lower energy prices—and I believe it will be.”


  • Computational fluid dynamics now allow a designer to accurately design a new shape of car, put it in a computer wind tunnel instead of a physical one, and test 1,000,000 body designs to improve fuel mileage by significant amounts. This was never before possible for those constructing vehicles.
  • In solar energy, large fields of mirrors or photovoltaic panels can be optimized to be lighter, more reliable, and more power-efficient by putting a $2 microprocessor in every panel. At eSolar, one of our companies, we designed and built a utility-scale solar-thermal power plant with a huge amount of computation embedded into the field of mirrors. We reduced the size of the components, cut the installation expense, and drove the cost of the system down to nearly half what had been achieved before.