Looking to a bright, sunny future

Apr 27, 2011 By Michael Baum
Credit: Shutterstock/Markus Gann

What are the major technology challenges to future growth in the solar-cell industry? Where are the big-bang-for-the-buck R&D investment opportunities? These and other questions were put to a group of 72 internationally recognized experts in the field at a 2010 special workshop. Their conclusions are summarized in a new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) publication on Photovoltaic Technologies for the 21st Century.

The workshop was led by a steering committee chaired by Roger G. Little, CEO, Spire Corporation, and Robert W. Collins, NEG Endowed Chair of Silicate and Materials Science, University of Toledo, and co-sponsored by NIST.

Photovoltaics—the generation of electric power by direct conversion of sunlight using ""—is a rapidly growing field. Conservative estimates predict a worldwide annual photovoltaic manufacturing capacity of 200 gigawatts (GW) by 2020. For comparison, the current global generating capacity for commercial nuclear power plants is estimated to be 377 GW. The United States currently has 8 percent of the manufacturing share of this market, but there are opportunities to double that or better, particularly through technological advances, according to the workshop report.

Workshop participants from industry, academia and government discussed the "Priority Challenges" for the four dominant photovoltaic technologies—crystalline silicon-based wafers, amorphous silicon and polycrystalline thin films, III-V multijunctions (a presently expensive but highly efficient technology that was first used in space applications), and more experimental excitonic and quantum-structured based technologies—and defined critical milestones on the path to solutions. Challenges range from reaching a better scientific understanding of the devices themselves to developing practical engineering data for determining optimal use of photovoltaics. Key questions include how can we simultaneously increase manufacturing yields, quality and performance of photovoltaic products; how can we better predict a solar cell's expected useful life and what are the connections between the properties of specific components and the performance of a final device; and how can we exploit this understanding to produce cheaper, more reliable and higher energy efficiency devices.

Recognizing that it's not all up to the researchers, the workshop also noted several institutional or policy-related issues for solar power, including increased availability of raw materials; better understanding and control of environmental impacts for the entire life-cycle of a photovoltaic installation; regulatory and tax policies that may needlessly hamper the growth of the market; and the need for better consumer information.

Explore further: Going nuts? Turkey looks to pistachios to heat new eco-city

More information: The new publication, Foundations for Innovation: Photovoltaic Technologies for the 21st Century, is available online at events.energetics.com/NISTGrandChallenges2010/pdfs/Opps_Solar_PV_web.pdf. The 32-page document summarizes for policy makers a considerably more detailed workshop report issued last year, Workshop Report: Grand Challenges for Advanced Photovoltaic Technologies and Measurements.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

Apr 17, 2014

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Apr 17, 2014

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...