OpenAI CEO Sam Altman invests in solar power firm Exowatt to fuel AI datacenters

$20m to keep the industry from having to rely on fossil fuels

Solar energy company Exowatt has launched with the financial support of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, alongside two other investors.

It's not clear how much Altman is ploughing into Exowatt, but the Wall Street Journal reports he personally will be joining Andreessen Horowitz and Atomic in funding the power company with $20 million.

Exowatt develops solar panels that store energy as heat, which is then converted into electricity via an engine. The company says the big selling point is that it has integrated the panels and the heat batteries into a single unit.

"We've invented a new solar technology that can power the future of AI and data centers with lower electricity costs than fossil fuels," Atomic CEO Jack Abraham writes on LinkedIn.

The high power requirements to run datacenters, let alone ones that power AI training, etc, is becoming a significant issue for companies like Amazon, which has resorted to rationing out servers in Ireland.

For his part, Sam Altman previously warned about power consumption issues in January, saying a "breakthrough" would be needed to advance AI. Arm CEO Rene Haas has similarly voiced his concerns about AI using great amounts of electricity, forecasting that datacenters could use a quarter of the US's power by 2030.

"One of the biggest problems of our time is figuring out how to power a future of abundant, cheap artificial intelligence without harming the planet," Abraham said. "Our mission at Exowatt is to do this at scale with a modular approach and bring the cost of electricity down to $0.01 per kWh over time."

Exowatt solar panels are apparently already on the horizon, according to Abraham: "we have significant deployments coming this year."

Altman's investment was partially motivated by his friendship with Abraham, according to the WSJ, though this isn't the first time the OpenAI CEO has invested in energy. He backs Helion and Oklo, which specialize in developing nuclear fusion and nuclear fission respectively. Notably, Helion's first customer was Microsoft, which wants to get access to the startup's fusion-generated electricity in 2028.

However, more traditional versions of solar and nuclear power will be used in the short term, as Exowatt and other energy companies are still in the startup phase. Amazon is making use of a typical nuclear power plant that came with its recent purchase of a Pennsylvania datacenter, which could use 475 megawatts (or even more) of the 2.5 gigawatts of nuclear power provided by the nuclear plant. ®

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