A big breakthrough was announced last month by researchers in MIT that may dramatically increase the importance of solar cells as a major source of energy. Up to now, there has been no easy way to store solar energy. The immediate availability of sunlight pretty much dictates how much power you have at any time. As soon as the sun goes down your immersion heater starts to cool down and your solar powered car grinds to a halt.
Meanwhile, nature has been busy mocking us. All around, efficient natural solar factories are at work converting the sun’s heat into chemical energy and storing this energy away for use at a later time. These conversion factories are known to the rest of us as leaves.
Taking a leaf (ouch) from nature, the MIT researchers have discovered a chemical mechanism (a catalyst) that can be used to extract oxygen from water at room temperature. Another catalyst is then used to extract hydrogen from water. All you need to trigger the reactions is electricity (from a solar cell for example). Both gases can then be safely stored away for later use. To create usable energy later on, you recombine the two gasses in a device known as a fuel cell.
Cheap, reliable, clean solar energy generated from within your home. Your house as a power station and as a refueling station. No need to wire your house to a power station. According to the scientists, we might see changes happening in as little as 10 years time. It will be interesting to see how it works out.
Then again, this is Ireland. Now, if you could extract energy from rainclouds you might get somewhere..