Solar breakthrough simplifies storage

A worker staples a roll of photovoltaic solar panels on a roof of a warehouse in Laudu-LaArdoise, France, in February 2008.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Think about this fact for a second as you consider the high price of fossil fuels: Enough sunlight hits this planet every hour to meet its energy needs for an entire year.

Energy crisis solved, right? Not to mention global warming, too. Except it's not that easy. The thing about solar power is that it's inefficient and expensive to store kind of power when the sun's not shining.

Today, a researcher at MIT said he's found a way around the darkness, and that has entrepreneurs knocking at his door.

Marketplace's Dan Grech reports.


Dan Grech: MIT professor Daniel Nocera has discovered an inexpensive way of using the sun's energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. After the sun goes down, the gases can be recombined to create electricity. The process is called electrolysis.

Nocera says until now, electrolysis required expensive transformer boxes.

Daniel Nocera: This looks like the real thing. It's as cheap as you can get, it's easy to manufacture and unlike those big transformer boxes, this works in a glass of water.

MIT has patented the process and is forming a company to develop the technology for market. Nocera also published his discovery in today's issue of the journal "Science."

Nocera: I open-sourced it right away. Because it's easy to do, you'll have the entire community across the world begin working on this.

MIT has already heard from solar firms interested in licensing the technology.

Solar energy is the hottest of the green technologies, which include biofuels and wind power, but right now solar accounts for less than 1 percent of energy use in the U.S.

Monique Hanis is with the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Monique Hanis: We have companies all over the country and labs that are working to bring down the cost of solar all along the supply chain.

More than half a billion dollars in venture capital poured into solar technology last year and investment is on its way to another record in 2008.

I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...