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Conn Prize Winner Says Sustainability A Matter Of Public Will

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The winner of this year’s Conn Prize from the University of Louisville will be in town to talk about his work this week.

Harvard chemist Daniel Nocera won the prize for his work creating two devices to store energy: a low-cost rechargeable “flow” battery and an artificial leaf. In an interview with WFPL last year, he said these devices help fill in a gap in the renewable energy field: how to store energy to use later.

“The challenge comes when the sun goes down,” he said. “So all attention is turned to how do we store solar energy.”

Energy storage is a major issue in the renewable energy field, and has been painted as one of the main reasons it’s not realistic to rely solely on renewables without fossil fuels as backup.

But Nocera said the industry is at the point where science has overcome most of these hurdles — thanks in part to inventions like his. Overall, renewables are still more expensive than fossil fuels like coal, oil or gas, though the costs are dropping and Nocera said renewable energy will be cheaper at some point in the future.

But now, he said, it’s up to society to decide to make the switch.

“That change is happening, and I have a lot of hope that we really are ready to go from a science technology point of view,” he said. “Now, it’s kind of [a question of] political and social will. Once people decide this is what we want to do, we’ll do it.”

Nocera is the second recipient of the Conn Prize, which the university awards every other year for game-changing achievements in renewable energy. He’ll deliver a public talk on Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the U of L’s Rauch Planetarium.