Will households become independent from electricity distribution grids? That would be the outcome of a new method of making electricity from sunlight, which has just been tested by two engineers, Gang Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Zhifeng Ren of Boston College. According to The Economist, they suggest that a phenomenon called the thermoelectric effect can be used to generate a current through a material that is unevenly heated by the sunlight.
“They could be built into the solar water-heaters that adorn the roofs of an increasing number of houses. If such heaters were covered with thermoelectric generators … electric power would be extracted from them. Then the exhaust heat … could be used in the traditional way to warm water up. … This kind of combined heat and power might enable more people to declare independence from the grid.”
Generalized, it could significantly change the overall cost of energy, the quasi- monopolistic or oligopolistic power of energy suppliers, as well as the current geographical pattern of urbanization.