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Here Comes the Sun

CATEGORY: ⚐ EN + sustainability

Silicon Valley has changed the world once. Now, thanks to a wave of investment and innovation in solar power, it’s on to the next revolution: A massive disruption of the U.S. electricity market.

(Business 2.0 Magazine) — There’s a missile-bunker vibe you get when walking into Solaicx, a Silicon Valley startup that manufactures the silicon wafers that are the building blocks of solar panels.

In one half of the nondescript Santa Clara warehouse, three men sit hunched on a wood platform 8 feet above the cement floor, their eyes locked on two monitors. The screens show data and video gathered from a 24-foot-tall steel tower. The tower begins in a squat, gourd-shaped base and tapers to a cannon-size column with a long drum spinning slowly on top. Thick power cables snake down its sides. Another sci-fi-looking tower rises up off to one side of the building.

Inside the tower that has everyone’s attention, molten silicon is being added to a thin, 8-inch-long rod, or “seed,” of silicon. After 15 hours of precise spinning and pulling, the seed will grow to a mirror-finished ingot about 4 feet long and weighing more than 150 pounds. If it’s perfect – and that is the point of Solaicx’s cutting-edge technology – it will form a single crystal matrix, which is then trimmed and sliced into 1,000 wafers that sell for $5 apiece and are used by companies like General Electric (Charts) to build the most efficient solar modules on the market today.

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