Growing up and now living in Minnesota, I have learned to bear the state's harsh winters as some sort of demented badge of honor. And, as the descendant of a long line of no-nonsense German and Irish immigrants, I have been taught that following a slow-and-steady course is often the best path to success.
As a result of this typical Midwestern upbringing, I have always secretly envied individuals who were able to unshackle themselves from geographical and cultural constraints and break away to the sunshine and warmth of California. I hold in even greater esteem those few who venture west not simply in search of sun, but for the grander challenge and excitement of surfing some really huge waves.
I was reminded of this "sun and surf" envy after reading about Harris & Harris'
Innovalight's CEO said that, if successful, its process could reduce the cost of producing solar-generated electricity by tenfold. If true, this would place Innovalight's price somewhere around $0.50 or $0.60 per watt and make it very competitive with fossil fuel-generated electricity.
Of course, the effectiveness and prices of Innovalight's solar cells are still big "ifs," and the company faces considerable competition from other start-ups such as Konarka, Nano-Solar, and Nanosys -- not to mention more established solar players like Sharp, Kyocera
The firm's other recent investment appears considerably riskier. Just last week, Harris & Harris disclosed that it had invested a modest amount in D-Wave Systems, a British Columbia company seeking to develop a quantum computer.
Quantum computers are not confined by the same limitations as today's classical computers and can perform a mind-boggling number of calculations. Not even IBM's
For instance, quantum computers can optimize trucking and shipping routes and help design next-generation computer chips. Perhaps most importantly, these machines can model other complex quantum systems, such as the complex chemical and molecular interactions that lie at the heart of today's chemical, pharmaceutical, and life sciences industries.
The bottom line is that the investment in D-Wave Systems is the kind of investment that could reap huge -- and I mean huge -- dividends. In this way it is somewhat analogous to going out to California in hopes of becoming a professional surfer. Most people who attempt to catch and ride the largest waves will crash, but for the fortunate few who take the risk and have the talent, the payoff can be extraordinary.
So if you're looking for a little sun (in the form of solar power) and fun (in the form of quantum computing), I encourage you to consider an investment in Harris & Harris. Its investment in Innovalight seems quite solid, and its investment in D-Wave could, quite possibly, help you catch one of the biggest waves -- quantum computing -- in the next 20 years.
The closest Fool contributor Jack Uldrich comes to catching any waves is when he takes his kids to the local water park, complete with artificial wave maker. He is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including his most recent, Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big . He owns shares in Harris & Harris. The Motley Fool has a strict disclosure policy.