Project Milwaukee
11:39 am
Wed June 12, 2013

Wisconsin Researchers Try to Clear a Solar Hurdle

Hongrui Jiang speaks with Lake Effect's Bonnie North.

As we’ve heard on our Project Milwaukee series this week, Wisconsin utilities are required to generate 10 percent of their electrical power by renewable sources – such biomass, wind – and solar.  That last source has been harnessed for decades.  But only recently have its costs come down enough to make wider-spread use more appealing. 

The technology has also improved so that states outside the sunbelt – such as Wisconsin – can capture and use solar power.

But a problem in these less-sunny states has always been in storage, so that solar power’s delivery is uninterrupted, even on a cloudy day.

Enter Hongrui Jiang, a scientist at UW-Madison.  Jiang says he took a page from science fiction in approaching that challenge, and has worked out a microscale design that balances solar energy harvesting, storage, and usage.  

"This is not about fundamentally changing the solar energy industry - it's adding more capabilities, adding more functionalities to it." - Hongrui Jiang

But the device, which he describes as a "self-sustaining solar power device" has far wider applications than what it was originally developed for - contact lenses designed to aid people who suffer from presbyopia.  While it's currently on a microscale, he believes it could someday be adapted and have implications for electrical utilities, as well.

Jiang says the technology is probably a decade or more from production.

Jiang's work, conducted with his students at UW-Madison, was published this month in the journal Advanced Materials.