All Night Long
August 1, 2008 4:51 AM Subscribe
MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for later use.
"If you can only have energy when the sun is shining, you're in deep trouble. And that's why, in my opinion, photovoltaics haven't penetrated the market," Daniel Nocera, an MIT professor of energy, said in an interview at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, office. "If I could provide a storage mechanism, then I make energy 24/7 and then we can start talking about solar."
Solar has been growing as a power source in the United States -- last year the nation's solar capacity rose 45 percent to 750 megawatts. But it is still a tiny power source, producing enough energy to meet the needs of about 600,000 typical homes, and only while the sun is shining, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Most U.S. homes with solar panels feed electricity into the power grid during the day, but have to draw back from the grid at night. Nocera said his development would allow homeowners to bank solar energy as hydrogen and oxygen, which a fuel cell could use to produce electricity when the sun was not shining.
"I can turn sunlight into a chemical fuel, now I can use photovoltaics at night," said Nocera, who explained the discovery in a paper written with Matthew Kanan published on Thursday in the journal Science.
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