Could solar energy be cheaper than fossil fuels? A new battery that stores heat from the sun could make the technology 95% cheaper

  • One firm claims it will create solar power 95% cheaper than current systems
  • It will do this by using a battery made of a patented metal alloy and hydrogen 
  • The solar-powered battery can store thermal energy for 100 years, scientists say
  • Dish collects 150kW per hour which can be stored and distributed as needed
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A major breakthrough in solar technology could produce energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

One company has licensed a new system that it claims will create solar power that is 95 per cent cheaper than existing systems – with a single battery able to power 11 homes.

This is thanks to the creation of a solar-powered battery that can store thermal energy for 100 years without any waste, according to the developers. 

The technology is based on a concentrated solar thermal power dish that has a battery at the back made of a patented metal alloy and hydrogen.


A major breakthrough in solar technology could produce energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time. The technology is based on a concentrated solar thermal power dish (pictured) that has a battery at the back made of a patented metal alloy and hydrogen

There are two ways to harvest solar energy – one uses the light from the sun, while the other uses heat from the sun.

A UK-Swedish company known as United Sun Systems has designed a new battery that converts heat from the sun into electricity, which unlike light from the sun, can be stored.

Scientists are using hydride materials, which are compounds of hydrogen bonded with metal, to store this heat.

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‘Prior to the discovery of this class of hydride materials, storing heat at this temperature was only possible using expensive and highly corrosive materials,’ said Dr. Ragaiy Zidan, a scientist at Savannah River National Laboratory and inventor of the technology.

‘This is a game changing technology for the concentrated solar power sector that will drastically reduce its cost and improve its performance,’ he added.

The dish has a diameter of 46 feet (14 metres) and is covered with glass mirrors, which focuses the sun’s rays onto the dish to create temperatures of 750°C.


A UK-Swedish company called United Sun Systems has created a battery that converts heat from the sun to electricity, which unlike light from the sun, can be stored 


Scientists are using hydride materials – which are compounds of hydrogen bonded with metal – to store this heat at the back of the dish 

This energy is then stored in the thermal battery which powers a Stirling engine that drives pistons to produce useful power.

The Stirling engine was developed by clergyman and scientist Reverend Robert Stirling in Edinburgh in 1816 as an alternative to the steam engine.

The dish collects around 150kW per hour which can be stored and distributed as needed.  

‘The heat is transferred from this focal point via a heat pipe into a large thermal battery that is located behind the dish where the heat is stored in a new heat battery technology based on “Metal Hydrides”,’ Lars Jacobsson, Chief Executive Officer, United Sun Systems told MailOnline.

‘The battery is connected to a Stirling Engine that is converting the heat into kinetic energy, and connected to a generator it produces electricity.’


United Sun Systems claims will create solar power that is 95 per cent cheaper than existing systems – with one battery able to power 11 homes


The dish collects around 150kW per hour which can be stored and distributed as needed


Lars Jacobsson (right) and his wife Ragnhild (middle) met Sir David Attenborough to discuss the potential of their technology to help address climate change

The fully-powered battery is capable of charging an engine throughout the night, developers say.

‘I am familiar with this technology,’ Dr Ian Crow from the Materials, Devices and Systems (MDS) Research Division in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Manchester told MailOnline.

‘It’s a hybrid system combining solar thermal technology (where the heat from the sun is collected and converted to electricity using what is known as a Sterling Engine) with, in this case, a gas back-up,’ he said.

The first generation of the technology has been tested at installations built in Phoenix, Arizona, the Tooele Army Depot in Utah, United States, Mongolia, Dubai and South Africa. 


The fully-powered battery is capable of charging to engine throughout the night, developers say. The first generation of the technology has been tested at installations built in Phoenix, Arizona, the Tooele Army Depot in Utah, United States, Mongolia, Dubai and South Africa

‘By using our unique expertise, we have been able to develop an inexpensive way to store solar energy that makes this renewable energy source cost competitive with fossil fuels,’ said Dr. Terry A. Michalske, Savannah River National Laboratory Director.

‘This partnership will allow us to deploy large scale solar energy production that will revolutionise the industry,’ said Mr Jacobsson, who has also met with Sir David Attenborough to discuss the potential of their technology to help address climate change.

‘It is extremely exciting’, he said. 

The firm has just signed an agreement on the battery technology with the US Department of Energy and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. 

It is now fundraising to launch the system commercially. 

HOW MIGHT SOLAR PANELS ALSO GENERATE ENERGY FROM RAIN?

A new type of solar panel cell that generates energy from rain as well as the sun’s rays could be used in countries that see little sunshine.

A prototype recently developed by Chinese scientists works like a normal silicon cell with an extra power generator layered on top.

In the rain, the cell switches over to this ‘triboelectric nanogenerator’ (Teng), which converts the downward force exerted by raindrops into electricity. 

Because the plastics used to make the Teng are transparent, the solar cell could still generate energy from sunlight, as well as falling raindrops.

The physics behind the hybrid device involves the transfer of electrons between two conducting materials when they make contact.

When raindrops fall on the cell, they compress the upper Teng layer, generating a current of electrons that flows to an electrode below.

It could be useful in areas that see little sunshine, such as the UK, which can produce up to 8GW of solar power on sunny days – a quarter of the nation’s power demand – but just 1GW of power on dull days in winter. 

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