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Future of Solar Energy Could Be Brighter, Expert Says

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With gas prices skyrocketing, many people are hoping solar and other alternative energy sources can provide relief.

But a revolution in solar energy is at least a decade away, says California Institute of Technology Professor Harry Gray, a world-renown chemist who spoke May 9 at USD. “We’ve got to find a way to accelerate it,” says Gray, who is one of the principal investigators for the National Science Foundation Chemical Bonding Center that brings together leading scientists to research how best to harness solar energy.

While solar panels and sensitized paints that help convert sunlight to energy will make incremental gains, solar energy will remain too expensive to be competive with other forms of energy in the near future, he told a crowd of more than 200 professors, students and members of the public.

Significant progress will come when scientists find a way to use sunlight to split sea water into hydrogen and oxygen and use the hydrogen as clean fuel. Once scientists are able to do that, the price of solar energy will come down to about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, making it competive with oil, coal and other conventional energy sources, he says. Another hurdle is developing solar fuel cells with abundant natural materials that are both inexpensive and non-toxic, he adds. (Full Story Inside USD)

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