Many scientists, engineers, academics and environmentalists believe that we are on the edge of a photovoltaic revolution right now. Using solar energy cells (photovoltaic) to create energy is nothing new as the industry has been charging ahead for the past 30 or so years trying to produce photovoltaic cells that will cheaply and efficiently produce electricity.
And, now all of this hard work of the past is paying off in the present. Prices per watt have come down drastically in the past 3 years due to new technology and manufacturing of scale and efficiency. One of the biggest players in the field is the PowerLight Corporation who has just completed the first part of a 1 Megawatt solar power project in Gwangju, Korea. Powerlight has also just broken ground on a huge, 20-megawatt solar power system in Spain. Just a few hundred miles away, Germany has put their net metering system on steroids by implementing a program that pays customer eight times what the power company charges when selling surplus solar power back to the grid.
The problem with photovoltaic tied to the grid, though, is the inherent inconsistencies associated with solar power such as the fluctuations of output during the daytime especially during inclement weather or no output at night. During bright, sunny days an overabundance of electricity may be generated with no secure way to store it.
Using this overabundance of electricity to electrolyze water and create hydrogen as a storage device makes a lot of sense for photovoltaic applications that are tied to the grid or even for home use. The hydrogen that has been created can then be run back through a fuel cell to create electricity as needed. In fact, several hydrogen fuel manufacturers are using solar-to-hydrogen systems now for refueling vehicles in the field and General Motors is developing a home hydrogen generator that can use solar power for refueling cars. There are also two consumer solar-hydrogen homes to date in the U. S. in both Arizona and New Jersey, that are operating quite efficiently.
As the photovoltaic revolution comes of age over the next few years it will naturally bring the hydrogen age along with it. The coupling of solar and hydrogen energy is a natural partnership that is destined to create a new energy revolution just as petroleum had created over the past 100 years.