Promising to transform solar power from a “boutique” option into an affordable, dependable, mainstream energy solution, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Chesonis Family Foundation have launched an initiative with the ultimate aim of making solar energy America's primary carbon-free fuel.

The Solar Revolution Project (SRP), funded by a $10 million gift from the Chesonis Family Foundation, will explore new materials and systems that could dramatically accelerate the availability of solar energy. The SRP will work with other large solar projects at MIT, creating one of the largest solar energy clusters at any research university.

“Solar is thought of as an ultimate energy technology off in the distant future,” said Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT, who will direct the SRP. “The goal of SRP is to move this timeframe nearer to the present. The SRP will make solar a practical alternative by committing to a 10-year timeframe for establishing the new base of scientific knowledge it will take to draw a market-competitive energy supply from the sun.”

The SRP will initially support 30 energy fellowships for students on a range of solar-related studies, from the development of novel materials for energy conversion and storage to using solar energy to produce hydrogen fuel from water. Each fellowship will span five years, which allows for significant continuity and greater impact. The gift from the Foundation will also help support an integrated study on the future of solar energy, building on the success of two earlier MIT interdisciplinary reports on the future of coal and of nuclear energy in a carbon-constrained world.

”We are at a breakpoint, both in energy supply and environmental consequences. Solar energy has enormous promise as the ultimate answer to our energy problems,” said Arunas Chesonis, benefactor of the Foundation. “Solar energy is widely distributed and the fuel cost for solar power is zero. It's our hope that by investing in the people at MIT and giving them the freedom to take risks in the lab, we will enable them to be true game-changers — advancing the state of the art to a point where solar power is cheaper and more reliable than electricity from coal.”

“Solar Power at 5 cents per kWh would be a world-changing breakthrough,” said Craig Goodman, president, National Energy Marketers Association, Washington, D.C. “It would make solar generation of electricity as affordable as generation from coal, natural gas or other non-renewable sources, without requiring a subsidy.”