Ausra gets funding to create solar power plants


This solar start-up is attempting to use the sun to reach for the stars. Ausra, based out of Palo Alto, Calif., has just raised $40 million from Silicon Valley VC firms. But Ausra isn’t just any solar company; the firm aims to build utility-scale solar power plants to directly compete with traditional fossil fuel plants.

Here’s how it works: “Locally manufactured solar concentrators made of steel and glass focus sunlight to boil water, generating high-pressure steam that drives conventional turbine generators. New thermal energy storage systems using pressurized water and low cost materials will provide for on-demand generation day and night.” This means that the plant can provide energy even when the sun isn’t out, a point that Morgan, the company’s chief development officer, says is key for keeping costs low during times of peak demand.

A 1 megawatt prototype of the system was built in New South Wales in 2004. Now, the firm plans to complete a 38 megawatt field by 2009. According to Morgan, a 100-500 megawatt solar plant can run at 8 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to the 12 cents per kilowatt hour cost of traditional coal plants. The company currently has plans to build a large plant in central California.

According to Ausra, if they used their technology to build a 92 sq. mile plant it would be able to power the entire United States.

Their competitors include Brightsource and the Abengoa Group, which has already built a solar thermal plant in Spain, among others.

Facebook fundraising

Over at All Things Digital, Kara Swisher says that she has credible information that Facebook is getting ready to open another investment round “at a huge valuation.” Last year, Yahoo offered $1 billion and was turned down by Zuckerberg, not to mention the rumored Microsoft deal for $6 billion. The last round Facebook did raised $25 million at a $525M pre-money. This time, look for a valuation in the billions, sources say.

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IMMI creates a cell phone that really listens

ImiThe NYT published an article yesterday profiling Integrated Media Measurement (IMMI), a start-up based in San Mateo, Calif. that has taken the concept of measuring advertising effectiveness a step further.
Although companies can accurately track how effective their online ads are thanks to click-thru percentages and a variety of other metrics, someone has yet to come up with a reliable system to determine the success rate of ads for television and radio media. IMMI is prepared to tackle this problem with a creative, if not invasive, solution.

Once you agree to participate, IMMI provides you with a cell phone. Not only do they give you a phone for free, but they pick up the bill for all the calls you make on it. Here’s where it gets interesting: every 30 seconds, the phone records a 10 second sound clip from your surroundings. When you’re carrying the phone, a third of everything you hear is captured. That data is then uploaded to IMMI, at which point it is analyzed to determine exactly what advertisements you heard through out the day. That information is that cross-referenced with purchases you make; the company can install “Bluetooth beacons” in the stores of their clients, recording exactly when you enter and leave, in addition to what you buy.

The company launched in 2003 and so far has taken on 10 clients, among them ESPN and NBC. They currently have over 3,000 participants enrolled in the program (they recruit teenagers up to adults at 54 years old), each under an agreement to carry the phone for 2 years.

Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Advanced Technology Ventures funded the firm for a combined $14 million.

This technology brings us one step closer to the imagined future of the Tom Cruise flick “Minority Report,” in which stores scan your retina and identify you as soon as you walk in. Thanks to the wonders of Bluetooth, IMMI is already doing this. We’re still waiting on a company to come out with free designer sunglasses that record what ads you look at. This type of tech is surely coming. If IMMI is any indicator, we may not have to wait long.

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Virtual eBay for virtual world

Of course, eBay is the number one web auction house. Now, there is a company that has taken their style of auctions and applied it inside of a different online context. BidSL launched on Friday, bringing auctions to the virtual world of Second Life.

For anyone not familiar with Second Life, its economy is based on “Linden dollars,” or L$; virtual dollars that can be exchanged for real money (the current exchange rate is L$256 = $1US).

With BidSL, Second Life inhabitants can pay L$1-5 in order to put something up for auction (either a real item or a virtual item). Other SL citizens can then bid on that item in $L, with their money automatically redeposited in their account should they happen to be outbid before the auction deadline is over. BidSL also offers to franchise their auction house system to anyone who wants to run their own in exchange a 5% cut of the auction fees the franchise generates.

This comes just as ICANN CEO Paul Twomey told audience members at the 2007 Influence Forum that virtual worlds are the future of global commerce.

Previously we posted an article discussing the future of virtual worlds, comparing an open world like Second Life with worlds that are closed and privately branded. Perhaps a mix between the two will be what ends up prevailing. Virtual worlds definitely have a place in the internet landscape now, and as they become larger we will see many more services like this on the horizon.

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