The U.S. Department of Energy plans on investing $9 million in seven “data-driven” projects for improving solar-energy technology in the United States. The investment is part of the department’s broader SunShot Initiative, billed as a “collaborative national effort” to make solar energy a cost-competitive form of power by the end of this decade. "Through powerful analytical tools developed by our nation's top universities and national labs, we can gain unparalleled insight into solar deployment that will help lower the cost of solar power and create new businesses and jobs," Energy Secretary Steven Chu wrote in a Jan. 30 statement. "Projects like these will help accelerate technological and financing innovations.” The seven projects include an effort by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in conjunction with Clean Power Finance, to develop a model capable of collecting and analyzing data from more than 1,300 solar installation companies, and using that data to build optimal community- and regional-scale financing structures. In that same line, Sandia National Laboratories, alongside the University of Pennsylvania and the California Center for Sustainable Energy, will analyze market data in order to build a model of the economic and social factors involved in deploying solar technology. Projects headlined by Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin will also explore how to best diffuse solar technology across the country. Three other projects will focus on evolving solar technology to the next level. MIT plans on taking the Department of Energy’s money and using it to study “a wide range of hypotheses for describing the technology evolution process,” according to the project breakdown, in order to “form a single overarching theory that can be used to gauge and accelerate solar cost reductions.” Meanwhile, SRI International plans on partnering with the University of Toledo and General Electric to develop software capable of analyzing scientific publications and patents, all in the name of accelerating solar-energy technology development. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, along with Arizona State University and the University of Oxford, will analyze patent and production data to improve forecasts of “future cost reductions for new energy technologies.” The Department of Energy isn’t the only entity investing in green power. Google, for example, claims to have invested nearly a billion dollars in renewable energy, as part of a broader plan to become carbon-neutral. Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, Intel, and other tech firms are exploring how to make their infrastructure—most notably data centers—more energy efficient: good for the environment, true, but also for those companies’ bottom lines.   Image: fotohunter/