Scaling Up and Scaling Down Technology

We tend to think of renewable technologies in the form they’re first presented.

If it’s shown as big, we think of it as big. If it’s shown as small, we think of it as small.

But scaling up or down can change your perspective. It can make an old idea new again. Today’s news offers two examples of how this works.

GE is scaling down its natural gas turbines to create baseline power that makes solar heliostats like those of eSolar useful to utilities. Think of the turbine as working like a sound tuner, one that can be finely adjusted, adding more gas when the solar load goes down, reducing it when the solar load rises.

To make sure this works on the bottom line, GE is buying into eSolar and it brought in a Turkish company as co-investor. This scales down its own risk, while giving eSolar a real go-to-market strategy in the utility sector. The company was on the verge of becoming a mere technology supplier to India and China before GE swooped in.

Another example of scaling down to scale up comes from MIT.

They have scaled down the idea of a “flow battery,” usually used in the same back-up role GE is contemplating for its gas turbines, down to the size of a car battery, while at the same time offering the chance to scale up lithium ions to create a fueling system for electric cars. It will come to market through 24M, a spin-off of another MIT battery company, A123, which (not coincidentally) is in the lithium ion space.

In this case, the concepts of flow batteries and lithium ion meet in the middle, creating an electric car that can be refueled in any of a number of ways. Where it goes, no one can know yet. The point is that by changing the scale you can change the technology and, in time, find something you already invented that does just what you want.

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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