What do Water, Sunshine, and stereos blasting music at Night have in common? Thanks to MIT, not just Spring Break in Florida anymore…
MIT released news today of a “Major Discovery” that could change the way solar energy is collected and stored, making solar energy available at night and splitting water molecules in the process. The idea takes a page out of old mother nature’s book, using a conceptual approach similar to how plants manage to store all that sunlight they convert to energy.
from the article: “In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.”
Skeptics point out that the question of process efficiency still remains to be answered, as well as how they propose to store such volatile gasses (particularly in domestic settings). While the answers to these underlying technology questions are worked on (thank you MIT beard-power), there are dozens of commercial groups trying to figure out how to monetize the evolving consumer solar energy markets.
One of the most interesting i’ve seen to date isSolarCity, a group that is rapidly installing a network of solar panels to residential, commercial, and government markets. Their approach is to offer cooperative solar panel deployments to consumers at no cost, and then charge them a monthly utility fee just like your current power company does. On average, the monthly cost for this “SolarLease” model is significantly less than previous utility bills, and they also offer more traditional equipment purchase arrangements.
The underlying process for understanding the potential for solar energy collection is one near and dear to all GIS-heads… Spatial Analysis at it’s finest. There have been some very elegant models built for this analysis (opensource and proprietary), though they tend to be quite localized in accuracy (dependant on data resolution). The group that can turn that spatial analysis into an easy to consume web service with convenient API’s stands to become very successful.
On the government side, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published a map service that allows site visitors to search for a location, feed that location into a Solar Potential model, and then pull out a report similar to the one below: