Researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, have recently developed a system whereby solar energy can be stored for up to 18 years. This research was carried out together with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU).
The problem with renewable energy has long been storage. Whereas a great deal of energy can be produced from windmills, so long as the wind is blowing, and solar panels, so long as the sun is shining, the energy grid has to continue making use of more reliable sources if constant demand is to be met.
The development in question, however, not only allows for the long-term storage of solar energy which can then be released as heat (something the Chalmers University of Technology researchers already demonstrated years ago), but also for the production of electricity by connecting this stored energy to a thermoelectric generator. Says Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen, who has led the research:
It means that we can use solar energy to produce electricity regardless of weather, time of day, season, or geographical location. It is a closed system that can operate without causing carbon dioxide emissions.
From the published study, we read that the generator used “can produce, as a proof of concept, a power output of up to 0.1 nW (power output per unit volume up to 1.3 W m−3).” This is relatively small. However, it “demonstrate[s] that such a molecular thermal power generation system has a high potential to store and transfer solar power into electricity and is thus potentially independent of geographical restrictions.”
The next step will be for the Chalmers team to “improve their system’s performance” and build “an affordable commercial version of their system that could potentially be used in homes.”
Regardless of the politicization of renewable energy and the drive to exaggerate the pitfalls of nuclear plants and fossil fuels, in a climate of political instability and the need to diversify energy sources, the development of technologies like the above represents a real chance at increasing energy independence.