Wisconsin Researchers Try to Clear a Solar Hurdle

Jun 12, 2013

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.