The U.S. Department of Energy is giving the University of Arizona $1.5 million to help speed up a glass-molding technique that could improve solar energy systems.

The SunShot initiative was set up by the DOE to make solar power cost competitive with traditional energy sources by 2010, said Ranga Pitchumani, director of Concentrating Solar Power at DOE.

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As part of the initiative the department is awarding $16 million nationally for a three-year research project to deliver more clean renewable energy “to millions of homes and businesses across the country,” Pitchumani said.

The University of Arizona is one of 21 entities receiving funding to further advance cutting-edge concentrating solar power techniques. This type of solar technology uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to produce heat, which is then used to produce electricity.

This technology is different from other solar energy technology because of its ability to store energy as heat so that consumer demand can be met even when the sun is not shining, according to the DOE.

The UA is already working on this technology. Roger Angel, director of the Stewart Observatory Mirror Laboratory, says for the past two years UA researchers have used a technique to make mirrors that are more accurate than the ones presently used in the solar industry.

“We basically soften the glass, take a flat sheet of window glass, heat it to the point where it softens and mold it into the curved shape that you need for a focusing mirror, then cooling it down,” Angel said. “Presently it takes us about five hours and as part of this project we hope to get that down to five minutes instead.”

Time and cost are major setbacks for this type of energy, so Angel will use the grant to research ways to speed up the process and make it commercially viable.