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The great stumbling block for solar power has always been storage.
When solar panels generate abundant electricity in the bright sunlight, how can homeowners store that energy for night time and dark days?
Conventional batteries, even the most high-tech ones, are inefficient, expensive, and don't last more than a few years.
But this week, researchers at Ohio State University announced a breakthrough battery that's 20% more efficient and 25% cheaper than anything else on the market.
It's the game changer that could finally make solar energy competitive...
Tapping Solar Power When the Sun Isn't Shining
Solar power has always had one major drawback: When the sun isn't shining, the electricity stops.
Homeowners can either draw power from the local power company, which is much more expensive than the "free" energy solar panels provide, or they can store electricity in banks of lead acid or lithium ion batteries.
Both are expensive and inefficient.
A bank of batteries with enough capacity for two days of usage, along with the electronic controls they require, can cost $5,000 to $15,000 and last 5 to 12 years. Because solar panels typically last 20 years or more, homeowners can count on replacing back-up or auxiliary power batteries two to four times during the life of their solar panels.
And in conventional set-ups, 20% of the electricity solar panels generate is "lost" before it even gets to the batteries.
A breakthrough published in the scholarly journal Nature Communications this week by Ohio State University researchers could change all that.
It sounds deceptively simple. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, a team led by researcher Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has combined a solar panel and rechargeable battery into one unit.
"The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a battery to store the energy," Wu said. By combining the two, Wu's team can produce a battery that eliminates the usual 20% efficiency loss between panel and battery, at a cost that's 25% less than existing technology.
The battery has one other high-tech wrinkle. To boost efficiency, Wu noted, "Basically, it's a breathing battery. It breathes in air when it discharges, and breathes out when it charges."
To the industry, this breakthrough in battery technology is potentially huge - here's why.