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His energy bill is $0.00

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Strizki understands that few people can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for clean energy. Now that he's demonstrated his idea works, his goal is to make the system better and less expensive. (For example, the 10 propane tanks could be replaced by one high-pressure hydrogen tank buried underground.) With mass production, he believes he could get the price of the system, not including the solar panels, down to about $50,000. (A new solar panel system can cost as much as $80,000, Strizki says, but some states, including New Jersey, have offered rebates that cover up to 70 percent of the cost.) Strizki is seeking government grants and private donors for funding, and he's started a company, Renewable Energy International, which he hopes will one day market his product. He says he's already heard from potential customers: "We've been called by some A-list Hollywood types interested in powering their islands."

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Hydrogen hurdles

Strizki's project proves that carbon-free living is possible right now, but renewable-energy experts are skeptical that hydrogen houses with hydrogen-run cars in the driveway will catch on anytime soon.

"There's no way your average person is going to want to buy five expensive pieces of hardware," says Joseph Romm, a former Department of Energy official who analyzed clean-energy technologies during the Clinton administration.

In addition to the high cost of the equipment, there's another huge hurdle that must be overcome if hydrogen is to become a viable clean energy: Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it doesn't exist alone in nature; you can't just bottle it up.

To get at hydrogen, it must be processed from another source, such as natural gas, oil, coal, or water. According to the National Hydrogen Association, 95 percent of the hydrogen produced in the United States is made through steam reforming natural gas – a process that releases greenhouse gases into the air.

Strizki's method for making hydrogen is totally clean, but suffers from a different problem: Electrolyzers are only 50 percent efficient. By the time the electricity from his solar panels is converted into hydrogen, and the hydrogen converted back into electricity in the fuel cell, half of the clean energy he started with is used up.

Mr. Romm thinks it's a waste. That electricity would do more good toward reducing pollution if it was sent into the main power grid to displace other energy, he says. "[Strizki's system] doesn't get you that much environmentally," he says.

Romm is an advocate for clean-energy use – in recent books and articles he advocates a sharp cut in greenhouse-gas emissions within 10 years – but he's characterized hydrogen as an overhyped distraction that isn't ready yet to help toward that goal. He supports continued hydrogen research, but other technologies that are more developed could help the Earth much more and much sooner, he says.

Not ready for prime time

Robert Boehm, director of the Center for Energy Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has studied renewable energy for the past 35 years. His reaction to Strizki's home project is tempered.

"Does it make sense in the present environment? Probably not. Does it make sense as a sustainable thing in the future? It very well could," Dr. Boehm says.

Boehm predicts that it will be at least a decade before hydrogen energy is ready for the mainstream, and then only if enough money is put into research and development.

"In any of these new technologies, they need a lot of government support," he says.

Boehm sees the most immediate potential for a system like Strizki's in places far from a power grid, where selling renewable energy back to a power company is not an option.

Strizki isn't dissuaded by criticisms that his system is too expensive or too inefficient to be practical. He's determined to push technology ahead toward an end goal – totally clean energy – and he sees renewable hydrogen as the best solution.

"It's the way that makes the most sense, and we have to start somewhere," he says. "If you look at it, no one has said what I'm doing doesn't work."