Innovation and economization are two driving principles of renewable power. It should come as no surprise to learn that solar power researchers may have developed a solution to the technology’s historically biggest impediment to widespread adoption: cost.

In so doing, they may have also developed a way to launch solar power into the next generation of productivity, a sort of 4G for solar power (to borrow a term from another industry that is also always breaking new ground).

Scientists at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society reported the discovery of a powerful catalyst that could be a key element in an inexpensive solar-energy system that could allow homes and businesses to generate enough power to meet all of their energy needs, and, therefore, become completely independent from the grid.

The systems would use solar panels to generate electricity during the day, with stored surplus energy used to meet energy demands at night. The excess energy would be stored in an electrolyzer that breaks ordinary water down into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be stored in tanks. In the evening, when solar panels can’t produce power, the hydrogen and oxygen would be fed into fuel cells that produce electricity.

The key to the success of this conceptual system is the newly discovered catalyst, which would boost the output of the electrolyzer by 200 times. The increased efficiency could be the driving force behind a self-contained system that would be packaged and sold inexpensively to homes and businesses.

“Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the leader of the study group that announced the new discovery.