Professor Daniel Nocera says such an era would involve the focus of electricity production shifting from huge central generating stations to individuals in their own homes and communities.
Nocera predicts global energy needs will double by mid-century and triple by 2100 due to rising standards of living and world population growth. He said personalized solar energy - the capture and storage of solar energy at the individual or home level - could meet that demand in a sustainable way, especially in poorer areas of the world.
Nocera envisions an innovative catalyst that splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen that become fuel for producing electricity in a fuel cell. He says the new oxygen-evolving catalyst works like photosynthesis, producing clean energy from sunlight and water.
"Because energy use scales with wealth, point-of-use solar energy will put individuals, in the smallest village in the non-legacy world and in the largest city of the legacy world, on a more level playing field," he said.