Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered a new way of storing energy from sunlight. The breakthrough could potentially lead to ‘unlimited’ solar power.
The process, which is loosely based on plant photosynthesis, uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. When needed, the gases can then be re-combined in a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity whether the sun is shining or not.
The process uses natural materials, is inexpensive to conduct and is easy to set up.
There is enough energy in the sunshine that falls on the earth in less than one hour to satisfy the energy needs of the entire human race for ONE YEAR. About the only downside to solar energy is how to store that power for use at night or on cloudy days, and this new technology from MIT appears to solve that problem elegantly.
Unfortunately, most leaders of the world have been unwilling to fully endorse widespread use of solar energy, most likely because they can’t make money from it. Energy self-sufficient communities are not something these corporate and political giants are rooting for.
However, despite the fact that many are skeptical about our ability to produce solar power that can provide electricity at a low enough cost to be truly competitive, I personally believe we’ll get there.
And probably A LOT sooner than projected.
Solar Energy is Already Far Less Expensive and Less Toxic Than Coal
In order for clean solar energy to be adopted on a large scale, it has to become cheaper than energy from coal. Well, a company called Nanosolar has successfully created a solar coating that is as thin as a layer of paint.
These thin panels are created on an assembly line, similar to a printing press, making them very inexpensive to make. In fact, the technology has reduced the cost of production from $3 a watt to only 30 cents per watt, making solar power cheaper than burning coal for the first time in history.
Nanosolar won the Popular Science Innovation of 2007 award for this paint-layer-thin solar coating, and they were also named as one of TIME magazine’s best inventions of 2008.
This price reduction has the potential to radically change the equation when it comes to choosing your energy sources, just as it did for me. I changed my plans for my new office building to include solar power when I realized we could actually eliminate our former share of pollution AND lower our utility bills at the same time. It’s truly a win-win situation if there ever was one.
How Soon Will Solar Power be Widely Used?
Nanosolar has been producing huge solar panels for cities and utility-scale power plants this year, and next year plans to come up with solutions for businesses and homes.
Meanwhile, MIT researchers hope that within 10 years many homeowners will be powering their homes with the sun rather than electricity-by-wire. The synergy of these two technologies is quite profound.
If the U.S. makes a massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants, it is possible that 69 percent of the United States’ electricity and 35 percent of its total energy could be solar-powered by 2050 or before.
It’s quite obvious that we have to stop relying on oil and fossil fuels for our energy needs, and we’re finally starting to see some very viable, exciting options. You can read about more of them in the Related Articles section below.