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Bleeding edge ideas for distributed power generation

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CleanTechnica posted a story yesterday about an MIT professor who argues that, even in the best case scenario, we will still be unable to meet our energy needs by 2050 using the centralised model of today. His solution, according to CleanTechnica:

Nocera said that MIT will announce its patent next week of a cheap, efficient, manufacturable electrolyzer made from cobalt and potassium phosphate. This technology, powered by a 6 meter by 5 meter photovoltaic array on the roof, is capable of powering an entire house’s power needs plus a fuel cell good for 500 km of travel, with just 5 liters of water.

Glass of water

The new electrolyzer works at room temperature (”It would work in this water glass right here”) to efficiently produce hydrogen and oxygen gases from water in a simple manner, which will enable a return to using sunlight for our primary energy source.

These sorts of technologies offer the hope for a kind of radical decentralisation of the power supply. It is also the sort of opportunity that is ripe for venture capitalist involvement (hence MIT’s patent announcement) because it does not require large-scale government funding and won’t face the kinds of bureaucracy that, say, building a new wind farm entails (development consent, NIMBY opposition, and so forth).


Urban wind power

Everybody is thinking about what the energy infrastructure of the future is going to look like. In the medium-term, we are going to see a partial decentralisation of the power supply alongside a significant increase in traditional, centralised renewable energy generation. While in the long-term (10-20 years from now) we will be aiming for fully renewable baseload power generation, in the medium-term baseload power will continue to be generated primarily, in Australia, by dirty coal. Nevertheless, while the broader transition to renewables gathers pace (a trend that I expect will result in not merely exponential but explosive displacement of fossil fuels with clean energy sources), it is entirely possible for peak power generation to be subsumed by, say, local councils using, say, urban wind turbines on main traffic arteries.

This week’s cleantech forum in Melbourne will be a welcome opportunity to hear where Australia’s cleantech industry sees the local energy sector going over the next few years. Watch this space.


Written by Gabriel Sassoon

March 29, 2009 at 10:35 am