Storing Solar Energy can run our homes, cars, toasters, ovens all with zero emissions
The sun puts out a lot of energy; more of it hits the Earth in an hour than humankind could use in a year so storing solar energy in bottles will be a revolution for all of us surviving on the planet. And we are really not taking advantage of it; the U.S. got less than one per cent of its electricity from solar power in 2016. If we could get that number higher, we could run our homes, cars, toasters, ovens all with zero emissions. That is the dream anyway, some perfect futures with infinite free energy. So what’s in the near future for this future? Where does solar power go from here? One of the big problems is what do we do when there is no sun? Like on cloudy days or on night time.
If we are going to go all solar, we need a way to store Sun’s energy. Usually, we combine solar panels with rechargeable batteries, but batteries are pricey and they aren’t affordable everywhere. So researchers in Sweden are working out on how to catch Sun’s energy in a bottle, or at least in a little tube. Those crazy scientists developed a liquid with the intriguing property. The molecules in the liquid react when exposed to light and become isomers, means they still have the same makeup but have a different arrangement than normal. And, when a catalyst is introduced, it will change the molecules back to their original structure releasing the stored energy as heat, which further could be used to generate electricity during a night at homes, provided enough heat is released. This new technique of storing energy could be useful if gets a success.
Recently, the researchers switched from expensive ruthenium to the more common elements, carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen to build their molecules making the process cheaper and easier. On top of that, they have actually increased their storage capacity by hundredfolds.so, they can only store 0.01% of the energy that hit it before and hundredfold increase means just 1.1%, still in progress. Well, the issue is not just the storage but the panels themselves are also quite costly. If we could make solar panels cheaper, that would go a long way to creating a competitive source of energy compared to fossil fuels and other renewables. 90% of photovoltaic today use crystalline silicon, making them expensive to manufacture. The process creates toxic by-products but there is an entirely different approach that does exist using perovskites.
Perovskites have a crystal structure of tetrahedral arrangement of atoms and molecules, and depending on which elements are used they have different properties. They could be superconductive, magneto-resistive, or photovoltaic. Solar cells that use them are cheap and easy to assemble and could on par with silicon cells in terms of energy efficiency. You may have noticed every rooftop in sight isn’t covered in perovskites. That is because they have a fatal flaw, the cells are unstable and, and extreme light levels, temperature and humidity can cause them to decompose. Even normal weather can destroy them.
As a result, perovskites cells only function for several months, compared to silicon cells which can last for more than 25 years. But a decade ago, perovskites cells only lasted a few minutes. Again, progress. Researchers are constantly inventing new ways to make it happen in our favour and, these are just a couple of things currently in the works that show promise. Though we don’t use much of it now, breakthroughs and innovations could lead to a world powered cleanly and sustainably by sunlight. The future solar power looks bright. There are crazier ideas for solar-like putting panels in space and beaming electricity back to Earth, but a massive project like that would be insanely expensive. They are fun to ponder though, so trace covers some for our geoengineering projects right here.