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Lighting up the way to a greener environment

Umah Papachan
June 2009
Lighting up the way to a greener environment

Timing is all-important in the launch of any industry. So, is now the right time to spend billions of dollars on renewable energies like solar, biofuels and wind, despite the fact that these industries have been around for the last two decades and have been heavily subsidized by taxpayers? Is the United States ready to give these industries a chance in its effort to wean itself from coal and gas and to check global warming?

TiE Atlanta, a non-profit organization, hosted a “Cleantech Forum” on April 29th to discuss questions plaguing companies in the alternative energy business. The organization’s mission is to foster entrepreneurship in various professional fields and to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Hosted by Anil Khatod, President of TiE Atlanta and Managing Director of Argonaut Private Equity, the panel was made up of Matt Card, Director of Business Development at Suniva, Inc. and Udi Meirav, CEO of Luminus Devices, Ltd.

Card said, “The US is now leading the world in solar technology and will continue to innovate and develop it in the foreseeable future. Suniva also best represents the involvement and cooperation from all the sectors of the economy—public, academic and private—in the development of green technology.”

Suniva, Inc., a Norcross-based start-up, manufactures high-value crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells. Its founder and CTO, Ajeet Rohatgi, who is also the founder and director of Georgia’s Tech’s University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaic Research and Education (UCEP), funded directly through the Department of Energy (DOE), has become an internationally recognized leader in photovoltaic technology.

Solar energy is abundant, cheap and safe, but can it be made available on a large scale and in a manner that is cost-effective to industries and consumers?

According to Card, Suniva’s goal is to make PV cells cost-effective. The company has also helped create green-paying jobs here in Georgia and elsewhere in the country. Also, Suniva, Inc. recently signed a deal with Jacoby Developments to install solar technology at the proposed mixed-use Aerotropolis project at the shuttered Hapeville Ford plant. A workforce of 85 is expected to triple by the end of the year.

The Obama administration has major plans for energy independence. Billions of dollars from the stimulus package will be directed towards boosting green energy and upgrading the nation’s electricity grid.

“We can offer a roadmap of fast and realistic path to grid parity for environmentally advanced large-scale power supplies. Even though we are more than a year old, the evolution of R&D at Suniva and the technological achievements we have made speak for themselves,” said Card.

Suniva intends to achieve the goal of making crystalline solar PV cells cost-effective around the globe without incentives or subsidies.

There are currently a range of light bulbs on the market, from the traditional incandescent ones to the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). The next generation of light bulbs will come from Solid State Lighting (SSL) and Light Emitting Diodes (LED). “It’s the light source of the future,” says Udi Meirav of Luminus Devices, Ltd. He adds, “LED lights can be up to twice as efficient as other forms of lighting, last for decades, offer bright white light and beautifully saturated primary colors, and are environmentally friendly, since they do not contain lead or mercury. The dirty little secret in the lighting industry is that the CFL bulbs contain mercury and if one breaks in your home, one has to take proper measures recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

But don’t expect the LED lights to hit the marketplace any time soon.

Luminus develops and manufactures high-performance solid state lighting and devices and systems from its headquarters in Massachusetts. These devices include chips for colored LED lights that combine the benefits of both LED and laser technologies that go into projectors and TVs. Luminus manufacturing technology, originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is best suited for high-intensity lighting applications such as street lamps, warehouses, arenas, entertainment outlets and stadiums.

How important is lighting? In his demonstration, Meirav showed satellite pictures of the seven continents taken at various times to show how the world is lighted up at night. Most of North and South America, Europe and the vast expanse of Asia showed increased activity in luminosity as opposed to poor nations in Africa. “The amount of GDP correlates to the amount of light used by a nation,” Meirax told the audience.

The question remains whether SSL and LED can help bring socio-economic prosperity to poor countries around the world. With technological advances moving rapidly, “I hope so, the potential is enormous,” remarked Meirav.

Anil Khatod summed up, “Our (TiE’s) monthly events ensure that our members broaden their entrepreneurial opportunities with the modern technological advances that are going on right now. And the business possibilities can lead to high-paying jobs and create new ventures.

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