This New York Times interview is very interesting. Daniel G. Nocera is a Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT, and he’s currently working on an artificial photosynthesis system that will use sunlight to generate hydrogen that can be used to power a fuel cell. One of the benefits of this approach over conventional photovoltaic cells is that the system generates electricity even when the sun isn’t shining, since the hydrogen produced while the sun is shining can be used later in the fuel cell. Professor Nocera’s design targets the home – instead of large solar power plants, Nocera’s system would provide decentralized power at the individual house level.
Here’s a snippet from the New York Times Nocera interview:
Q. By the looks of your designs, the home would become a sort of miniature solar power plant. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages to this type of decentralized power generation?
A. I only see advantages. The individual is in control of his own energy production. You can’t have a greater energy security. It is carbon neutral. And all people would be empowered — from the smallest village in the underdeveloped world, to the rural areas of the developed world. Of course, producing energy in a city this way does not seem as feasible to me. That is why you need both centralized (e.g., concentrated solar power delivered from a grid), and decentralized power.
The decentralized scenario, in my opinion, is the best way to tackle the global energy problem. As I say, “One person at a time, times a billion.” Instead of making one large system where significant scale-up is needed, here you scale instead to the individual. Then you can meet scale with manufacturing. This is the way our society historically does business.