SPIE Professional January 2009
The quest to harness the energy from sunlight to address the world’s energy crisis involves a number of technical areas within optics and photonics and demands the best innovators to invest in solar research. Critical projects to make this happen include R&D on laser applications for solar panels and black silicon; improvements to the power transmission grid; development of more cost-efficient organic solar cells; and substantial financial and political investments by government leaders across the world.
SPIE Photonics Innovation Summit
The importance of innovation and investment to the solar energy industry was a major emphasis at the SPIE Photonics Innovation Summit in California in November. Industry experts, government funding program directors, and venture capitalists presented attendees with a wide range of information about opportunities and challenges in this important marketplace for renewable energy.
John Lushetsky, program manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technology Program (SETP), discussed potential innovations for photovoltaics and concentrating solar power in the United States and outlined SETP’s goal to drive the cost of solar electricity to grid parity by 2015. Lushetsky also pointed to the Solar America Cities program in which SETP partners with cities committed to achieving sustainable solar city-wide infrastructure. The 25 participating cities effectively serve as living laboratories for testing methods to overcome barriers to solar commercialization, he said.
Terry Jester, principal at Hudson Clean Energy Partners, reviewed the aggressive pace of market growth and capital investments. Jester noted differences among four PV systems competing in the market. Among crystalline silicon; flat plate thin-film; flexible thin-film; and high concentration PV systems, crystalline silicon had almost 90% of market share through 2007, she said.
Other presenters who provided perspectives on successful innovations and challenges with solar energy were Richard Swanson, president and CTO of SunPower; Peter Borden, Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Applied Materials; and Scott Elrod, vice president and director of Hardware Systems Labs at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
PARC and the Center for Executive Education and the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley cooperated in organizing the SPIE Photonics Innovation Summit, which included sessions on biophotonics, next-generation lighting, and the history and science of innovation.
Harvard University’s Eric Mazur and his photonics research team discovered some years ago that irradiating a silicon surface with femtosecond laser pulses in the presence of a sulfur-containing gas transforms the flat surface of a silicon wafer into a forest of microscopic spikes. The resulting material, known as black silicon, absorbs and concentrates so much light that it’s expected to be used for a new type of solar cell. Read more about black silicon in the SPIE Newsroom at spie.org/news-blacksilicon.
Newport Corp., one of many companies providing laser scribing systems for the solar market, unveiled its SolaryX Edge laser system for thin-film solar cell manufacturing in September. An alternative to sandblasting, the SolaryX system can quickly and efficiently remove all thin-film coatings on solar panels and can also be used for edge deletion.
SCHOTT Solar AG and Merck KgaA are leading a consortium working to develop flexible organic solar cells and modules. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is providing annual funding of nearly €2 million over the next four years. The project will focus on increasing the efficiency of organic components to at least 10% as well as demonstrating that these cells can be produced using a cost-effective printing process.
IMOMEC, an associated laboratory of Belgian research center IMEC, reported in October that it has developed a method to stabilize the nanomorphology of organic solar cells, resulting in a lifetime improvement of at least a factor of 10. The breakthrough could pave the way to commercial organic solar cells with an operational lifetime of over 5 years and efficiencies of over 10%.
The SPIE Newsroom has more information, downloadable slides, and podcasts from the summit at spie.org/news-innovate.
U.S. Tax Credits
Barack Obama is expected to provide a boost to the U.S. solar market, when he takes office 20 January.
During his campaign for U.S. president, Obama promised a “New Energy for America” plan that calls for 10% of America’s electricity to be derived from renewable sources by 2012. That figure would jump to 25% by 2025.
Obama also has said his administration would invest in a national smart grid that utilizes smart metering, distributed storage, and other technologies to improve grid functionality and reliability. As part of this plan, Obama would establish an investment-matching grant program.
“Development of more renewable energy sources is vitally needed throughout the world in order to decrease dependency on fossil fuels,” says SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.
The U.S. Congress in October, meanwhile, extended investment tax credits for residential and commercial solar projects for eight more years. Previously scheduled to expire in 2008, the tax credits will help the growing solar industry and create new jobs.
spie.org/news-solar has the latest technical and industry news on solar and alternative energy.