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Apple & Google: Tech Leaders in Harnessing Solar Energy

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It's a known fact that Apple has spent nearly $3 million to buy more than 200 acres of property in Catawba County for another solar farm. It's just another step in Apple's pledge to have its Maiden data center running on 100 percent renewable energy by the end of the year. A TV station in North Carolina snapped aerial photos of Apple's solar which is quite impressive. Yet Apple isn't alone in this race to embrace clean power for its data centers. Not in the least. It was reported on just this past week that Google backs an Iowa wind farm which puts Google's investments in solar energy close to the billion dollar mark. On the very day of that report, the US Patent Office revealed that Google had invented a new stronger designed Heliostat mirror to harness solar energy against strong winds and hail.  


According to the Google's patent filing, their next generation solar Heliostat was invented by Solar Electrical Engineer Zvi Gershony of McClamont Engineering, Will Whitted, a one-time engineer with Google's renewal energy program, and Ross Koningstein who is an advisor to Google Ventures. Two of Google's patent figures are shown below.


2. Google invents next-gen heliostat mirrors to protect against wind and hail

The problem that Google set out to remedy was that the current generation of heliostats include mirrors constructed on glass substrates that could be easily broken when exposed to common environmental hazards, such as strong winds or large hail stones. Protecting such mirrors from these hazards generally adds additional components and cost. Polymer substrate mirrors often suffer from reduced reflectivity as compared to glass equivalents. These mirrors too can be rendered unserviceable by high winds and may become brittle or optically occluded after long exposure to high levels of ultraviolet light as are commonly present in solar energy applications.


Google's patent filing goes into great detail about how their design is to go a long way into remedying today's problematic heliostat designs. For those interested in reviewing this technology, check out Google's patent application 20120287518.


If you have a moment, you should check out GigaOM's latest report that lists Google's impressive clean power investments to date that we linked to earlier. Who would have guessed that Apple and Google's next battle front would have been about harnessing and advancing solar power technology?


At the moment, these projects appear to solely be about powering their own data centers. Yet there's much more behind this race than meets the eye. In fact if you remember way back to early 2011 when Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt met with President Obama, the agenda was about a shared goal of promoting American innovation, discussing commitments to new investments in research and development, education and clean energy. Of course the specific details of how the US government is working with these tech giants is unknown at this time.


Yet in the big picture, Wikipedia points out that many of the Obama administration's initiatives were undertaken as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and many of those investments were specifically in clean energy. According to a report by Clean Edge: The Clean Tech Marketing Authority, the recovery act included more than $70 billion in tax credits and direct spending for programs involving clean energy and transportation.


In the end, two of America's largest and most profitable technology companies are more than likely receiving huge government subsidies to advance solar energy in America. Yet collectively, they have the brain power to advance the technology behind solar energy and next generation Heliostats, like the one in Google's recent patent filing, faster than any other country in the world. Apple and Google may be fierce competitors, but when it comes to advancing American know how on solar technology, they're in many ways working together with the US Government to make clean energy a major priority for the next decade and beyond.   



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