Solar power: Is it time for the big push?

Jan 31, 2013

There are great expectations for solar power, especially in the coming years, when the International Energy Agency projects solar to grow faster than any other renewable power. But what does science need to do to more fully respond to the opportunities ahead?

Recently, three researchers discussed this with fellow scientist Harry A. Atwater, Jr., director of the DOE Energy Frontier Research Center on Light-Material Interactions in , as well as member of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) at the California Institute of Technology. To really give a push, the scientists raised advancing how new materials are created, developed and then brought to industry.

"We need to engage with manufacturers and end-users of the technology as soon as possible, rather than spend years doing lab demonstrations before anyone talks with industry," said Michael Wasielewski, director of the Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research Center and professor at Northwestern University. "We need to take advantage of manufacturers' expertise in how things are really done. On our part, we need to let them know about promising materials sooner, so they start to think about commercialization pathways earlier in the process."

It was also pointed out that barriers in the laboratory needed breaking. "I work more on the physics side, but there is a separation between what I do and the chemistry needed to make this work," said Albert Polman, director of the Dutch Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter's Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. "To make things happen faster, we need to have the disciplines talk to one another more than in the past."

Another challenge is making new technology more affordable. Nathan Lewis is principal investigator of the Joint Center for , the U.S. Department of Energy's Innovation Hub in Fuels from Sunlight at the California Institute of Technology, where he is also a member of KNI. Said Lewis, "[W]e need to really scale up manufacturing to make this technology cheap. Right now, making solar cells is like making other highly engineered technologies, such as silicon chips. What we need are technologies that let us churn it out inexpensively, like newspaper or bubble wrap."

Scaling up means bridging a financial gulf, noted Atwater. "[T]o commercialize solar technologies, we must get past the valley of death – that big gap between demonstrating a technology and finding someone to invest $100 million for large-scale manufacturing," he said.

Explore further: Britain's first poo-powered bus takes to the road

More information: For the complete article, visit: www.kavlifoundation.org/scienc… solar-power-big-push

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Turning sunlight into fuel

Feb 24, 2011

"At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars," President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address. He was referring to the Joint Center ...

Plastic solar cells pave way for clean energy industry

Sep 20, 2012

(Phys.org)—A Flinders University researcher has been developing a cheaper and faster way of making large-scale plastic solar cells using a lamination technique, paving the way for a lucrative new clean ...

Recommended for you

New battery technology for electric vehicles

10 hours ago

Scientists at the Canadian Light Source are on the forefront of battery technology using cheaper materials with higher energy and better recharging rates that make them ideal for electric vehicles (EVs).

Company powers up with food waste

Nov 19, 2014

Garden products company Richgro is using Western Australian food waste to power their operations in a new zero-waste system.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dschlink
not rated yet Jan 31, 2013
The largest part of a photovoltaic plant in the USA is the installation. This is typically triple that of the same sized plant as in Germany.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.