The recent crash in oil prices notwithstanding, an economy based on fossil fuels seems unsustainable. Supplies of oil, coal and similar fuels are finite, and even if new sources are found, global warming must be considered. Limitless solar power remains the Holy Grail, but among other obstacles to widespread adoption, society needs ways to store solar energy and deliver power when the sun isn’t shining.
Graduate student Xiaofei Ye (left) helps postdoctoral scholar Liming Zhang adjust an experimental device that, confounding conventional wisdom, showed that heating metal oxide solar cells increased their efficiency.
As energy experts would say, engineers must make solar power “dispatchable,” using an industry term to describe how utilities boost power output or throttle back depending on demand, something they now do by burning more or less fossil fuel.