Larry Kazmerski, executive director of science and technology partnerships at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), outlined the history of photovoltaic technology and gave away several of his famous ties and scarves. Kazmerski, known for his humor and colorful talks, brought numerous visual aids, including an unlaunched 1950s Explorer satellite -- about the size of a volleyball -- relevant because it was solar powered. (He did not reveal how he managed to get the satellite past airport security!) Kazmerski discussed the need to reevaluate earth-abundant technologies of the 1970s and 1980s. Moreover, he said, “Next generation solar PV mandates a balanced investment in research on longer-term technologies” such as quantum dots, multi-multijunctions, intermediate-band concepts, nanotubes, bio-inspired thermophotonics and other approaches.
Neal Armstrong, director of the Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials (CISSEM), a DOE-funded Energy Frontier Research Center, discussed what we don’t understand when it comes to achieving breakthrough solar technology. Armstrong noted CISSEM’s are focused on limiting “surface recombination” in new PV platforms. “It is clear that the most efficient OPV platforms will be ‘tandem’ (two or more sub-cells), and this brings a whole new set of problems in interface science to the fore. While we want to minimize recombination at the contacts, we want to maximize recombination between sub-cells, in nanometer-length-scale recombination layers.” Armstrong added that how these forces work and how they can be optimized, is at the heart of CISSEM’s current efforts.
Ana Moore, regents’ professor in chemistry and biochemistry and the Center for Bioenergy & Photosynthesis at Arizona State University, outlined what her group is doing to optimize an artificial system that does what nature does to split water, only better. She noted that while efficiencies are low and there are many things to figure out, they have found promising molecules to do the work, including mechanisms nature uses in Photosystems I and II. The ultimate goal is a highly efficient biomimetic equivalent of a tandem junction cell for solar energy conversion.
Michael Woodhouse, solar PV technologies and economics analyst for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discussed the math involved in evaluating the cost effectiveness of various solar PV technologies. His talk, which touched on wafer-based monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline single-junction cadmium telluride and single-junction gallium arsenide technologies, as well as several others, seemed to be a real eye-opener for Scialog fellows and other basic researchers. One major point: Even efficient solar technologies will require efficient storage and distribution technologies to make them viable.
Ramamoorthy Ramesh, former director of the DOE SunShot Program, told Scialog fellows and other researchers that fundamental research in solar conversion must take into consideration the globally competitive environment. “Reducing the total installed costs for utility-scale solar electricity to roughly six cents per kilowatt hour ($1/watt) without subsidies will result in rapid, large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States and the world,” he said. Ramesh added that it is essential that the U.S. maintain a manufacturing infrastructure for advanced solar technology. He said SunShot and other government programs are looking at ways to finance and maintain domestic solar manufacturing.
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