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Google founders invest in solar energy

Three years ago, investing in solar and alternative energy was considered odd. A couple of massive hikes in the price of oil later, and suddenly it's a status symbol.

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page (along with brother Carl Page) are investors in Nanosolar, which specializes in thin-film solar cells, according to the company's Web site. These thin-film solar cells are less efficient in harvesting the sun's energy than traditional crystalline solar cells. Brin and Page actually invested in the company a few years ago, but were lumped in with "prominent individual investors."

However, these solar cells can be printed on sheets of plastic, which can then be transparently integrated into roofs, walls and other surfaces. Thus, more surface area can be covered. Traditional solar cells are as decorative as an old-time satellite dish.

Thin-film technology is also improving. Other companies in this field include Konarka.

Nanosolar has approximately 42 patents and also holds an exclusive license to 15 patents from Sandia National Laboratories. Scientific collaborators include Stanford professor Michael McGehee, who has written extensively on photovoltaic technology, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Other investors include Mohr Davidow Ventures and Benchmark Capital.