A new startup backed by Bill Gates says it has managed to harness solar energy to greater effect than ever before, generating enough heat from a field of mirrored panels to drive the production of cement, steel and glass – processes that are usually reliant on fossil fuels.
In keeping with our modern age, this extra heat and efficiency has been made possible through artificial intelligence: computer software that can perfectly position the mirrors to concentrate sunlight in the most intense way.
The company, called Heliogen, claims that its focussed beams of light are able to create a solar oven reaching 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit), something that hasn't been done before in a commercial setting. That means solar power could replace fossil fuels for a host of industrial jobs, not just providing electricity.
"The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Bill Gross, CEO and founder of Heliogen. "We've made great strides in deploying clean energy in our electricity system. But electricity accounts for less than a quarter of global energy demand.
"Heliogen represents a technological leap forward in addressing the other 75 percent of energy demand: the use of fossil fuels for industrial processes and transportation. With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis."
Energy production through these concentrated solar power plants isn't a new idea, but Heliogen has been able to get its systems to reach temperatures close to double what's currently possible, which opens up a host of new opportunities.