Schatz Energy Research Center

Our beginnings

Children outside the marine lab pretend to be an electrolyzer; the solar array stands on the hill behind them.

In 1989, Schatz Center founders Peter Lehman and Charles Chamberlin and undergraduate students began what would become our first project: the Schatz Solar Hydrogen Project at the Telonicher Marine Laboratory in Trinidad, California. Our goal was to demonstrate the use of hydrogen as an energy storage medium for solar energy.

Our team installed a 9.2kW PV array on the hillside north of the marine lab and built a hydrogen fuel cell that was housed in a small building onsite. The solar array both powered an air compressor that aerated the aquaria and also electrolyzed water to produce hydrogen — which was then used by the fuel cell to generate electricity when the sun wasn’t shining.

Graduate students conduct the final IV curve tests on the solar modules.

Fish at the marine lab enjoyed solar-powered air bubbles from 1993 until the spring of 2012, when the electrolyzer and fuel cell were decommissioned. The solar array continued to produce energy for the local power grid until the array itself was decommissioned in 2016, after 26 years of service.

Each PV module was individually tested four times over the life of the project: in 1990 (when the modules were brand new), in 2000-2001, in 2010, and finally in 2016. Compared to all the world’s working arrays, these were among the most carefully monitored modules throughout their useful life.

Seven of the modules with their corresponding I-V curve data now hang in the staircase of our main building, as a celebration of our Center’s first project and as a teaching tool for university students and visitors.

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