In June 2017, Professor Ernesto Julio Calvo won the DSM Bright Minds Challenge for Inquimae. Traditionally, lithium - the lifeblood of battery technology - is available through one source and one source only: extraction from giant salt lakes or ‘flats. It’s a very slow process that wastes millions of gallons of water while releasing sodium chloride and magnesium sulfate waste into the air and soil. Or at least, it was. Ernesto’s revolutionary electrochemical method uses solar power to extract the lithium…but with zero environmental impact.
In our last blog post, The Bright Minds Challenge team talked to Jan Slaghekke, Chief Global Officer at Sungevity about his key learnings at a successful renewable energy start-up. We also discussed the progress that has been made to bring the solar industry mainstream and the remaining hurdles to overcome.
[BM] Sungevity have experienced success through the strategy of bringing ‘sunshine online’ and creating an online solar experience. What do you see as the key challenges still to be addressed to bring solar energy into the mainstream?
[JS] Solar energy has come a very long way and there is a real sense of momentum building. There are three key challenges to be addressed to achieve real scale in the industry:
The technical challenge: The key factor here is intermittency of electricity production, (the sun does not shine at night). To address this we need cheaper battery solutions that can be well integrated with solar systems. The battery industry is well on its way - and we see them getting there in the next couple of years which is amazing - but its not here yet.
The education challenge: There are still misconceptions about the technology out there - does it really work, isn’t it too expensive, there is no sun where I live, it needs too much subsidies to work etc. We need to change people’s perceptions and persuade them that solar is a viable alternative is typically lower than the current cost of electricity purchased from traditional utility companies.
The aesthetic challenge: Although I think panels on roofs look great myself - not everyone agrees yet - so more roof-integrated systems, will help the industry go more mainstream.
Can you help to bridge the gaps in solar energy and help advance the world’s movement towards 100% renewable energy? Enter the Bright Minds Challenge for the chance to get $100k worth of money-can’t-buy support from a team of experts chosen just for your project.
Image used with permission and supplied by Sungevity.