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  • US Invests in Solar

Photonics Spectra
May 2008
Anne L. Fischer

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has announced that it will invest up to $13.7 million over three years in 11 university-led solar photovoltaic technology projects. This investment is part of the Solar America Initiative that was begun in 2006, the goal of which is to make solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by 2015 and to install photovoltaic systems that can produce 5 to 10 GW of electricity in the US by 2015 and 70 to 100 GW by 2030.


Universities selected to receive the funding are involved with studying photovoltaic materials and devices. Each university will work with an industry partner, with the intention of quickly turning results into commercially available products and processes. The universities submitted applications in June 2007, and negotiations between selected applicants and the DoE will determine final project plans and funding, subject to appropriations from Congress.

The largest grant will go to the University of Delaware’s Institute of Energy Conversion, which will receive $3.75 million for two projects. In one, university researchers will work with Dow Corning Corp. of Midland, Mich., to develop flexible copper-indium-gallium-diselenide solar cells based on low-cost stainless steel substrates coated with silicon. These are intended for thin-film photovoltaics produced with roll-to-roll techniques.

In the second project, Delaware researchers will collaborate with SunPower Corp. of San Jose, Calif., in manufacturing crystalline solar cells that can be processed at low temperatures. The goal is to increase efficiencies beyond 26 percent.

Additional projects selected for funding range in focus from fabricating silicon-based thin-film solar cells using large-area very high frequency plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition, to reducing bottlenecks in testing concentrator photovoltaics. The thin-film project is being conducted by the University of Toledo in Ohio, with Xunlight Corp., also of Toledo. The focus will be on making high-efficiency amorphous silicon and nanocrystalline silicon solar cells at high rates. DoE funding is expected to be $1.4 million for the $1.9 million project.

The testing project is being conducted by Arizona State University of Tempe, in conjunction with SolFocus Inc. of Mountain View, and with Soliant Energy Inc. of Pasadena, both in California. The goal is to increase throughput and efficiency in testing of concentrator photovoltaics according to IEC specifications. The DoE intends to fund a little more than $625,000 for the $800,000 project.

The National Renewable Energy Lab has estimated the potential energy, economic and environmental benefits of achieving the goals of the Solar America Initiative. By producing 5 GW of electricity by 2015 — ten times more than is produced today — solar could replace the equivalent of five coal-fired power plants or enough to power 1.25 million households. In addition, approximately 2 million metric tons of carbon emissions will be eliminated. If the 2030 goal of producing 70 GW is achieved, it could replace 70 coal-fired power plans, providing enough power for 17.5 million households and eliminating approximately 27 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year.

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