Prof Panzer Explains Solar Energy Storage Options

Assistant Professor Matthew Panzer of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering wrote an “Ask the Expert” piece for TuftsNow on how options for storing solar energy.

Solar cells, also known as photovoltaics, convert sunlight directly into electricity. Photo: © Elena Elisseeva/DepositPhoto

“When the sun shines, we can store the electricity generated by solar cells or steam-driven turbines by using batteries (technically energy stored as electrochemical potential) or supercapacitors (energy stored in an electric field, due to the spatial separation of positive and negative charges). Then we can release electrical energy when it is cloudy or at night.

There are at least two other ways to store solar energy for use later. First, the thermal energy of concentrated sunlight can be stored in the heat capacity of a molten salt (the liquid form of an ionic compound like sodium chloride) at a high temperature. When electricity is needed later, heat is transferred from the molten salt to water, using a heat exchanger to generate steam to drive a turbine.”

This story first appeared in TuftsNow, May 13, 2013.

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