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SIPS Awards Shine Light on Solar Power R&D

Source: U.S. Energy Dept.

For a perspective on where photovoltaic (PV) R&D is headed, check out the Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS), part of the U.S. Energy Department’s Photovoltaic Research and Development (PVRD) funding program. On July 28, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced funding for 16 projects under SIPS totaling nearly $11 million.

According to the Energy Department: “These first-of-their-kind, single-year projects in the SunShot Initiative’s PV R&D portfolio are designed to allow researchers to test a concept and, if successful, develop data to support further research. This approach allows researchers to take a year to demonstrate that their ideas merit greater investment in the future.”

The round of awards is one of the first to look beyond the government’s 2020 goals. It focuses on research that demonstrates potential to drive the industry towards levelized cost for solar energy of $0.02-0.03/kWh by 2030. Its small-scale projects cover thin-film III-V technology, perovskite cells, and optimizing PV manufacturing—plus a big bet on concentrated solar power. Let’s meet the winners:

More cost-effective thin-film III-V cells

  • Arizona State University: This project will optically couple III-V and silicon cells to shoot for greater than 30 percent efficiency.
  • nLiten Energy Corporation: nLiten will try to significantly decrease the cost of epitaxially grown solar cells through the use of low-cost, nano-structured substrates for efficient epitaxial lift-off of III-V thin films.
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology: By using aluminum as an inexpensive, reusable substrate, this project has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of III-V solar cells.
  • University of Oregon: This project seeks to lower manufacturing costs for multijunction III-V PVs through the use of a new safer, inexpensive carrier gas in deposition.

More perovskite alternatives

  • University at Buffalo, the State University of New York: This project aims to accelerate the development of PVs based on chalcogenide perovskite materials. Sharing some similarities with halide perovskites, the chalcogenide alternatives are strongly ionic, which suggests they could be used to build PV devices with efficiencies higher than 25%,
  • University of Colorado Boulder: The team aims to discover new stable and lead-free hybrid perovskite compounds by using high-powered computational methods to screen a group of approximately 100 materials.

Optimizing manufacturing

  • Arizona State University: This project explores how to cut silicon wafers with less material loss, with the potential to double the yield—and cut costs by 50%—in creating silicon wafers. The technique is called sound-assisted low temperature (SALT) spalling.
  • Case Western Reserve UniversityThrough surface modification of the transparent electrode in thin-film copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) devices, this team aims to double the lifetime of this class of solar cells.
  • Colorado State University: Through a new approach to front-contact passivation, this project seeks to improve open circuit voltage and overall efficiency in cadmium telluride PVs.
  • University of Florida: This project intends to increase energy output in single-junction organic PVs to up to 15% efficiency through hydrogen bonding.

The big bet: concentrated solar power

Altogether, these PV projects are receiving $2M. A much larger $9 million in project funding targets concentrated solar power (CSP)—specifically, the solar collectors that account for up to 40 percent of the total plant cost, according to the Energy Department. The SunShot Concentrating Optics for Lower Levelized Energy Costs (COLLECTS) program seeks to lower CSP design and manufacture costs through new awards to these companies and universities: Agira Inc., University of Illinois at Urbana Chamaign, Giant Leap Technologies, the University of California San Diego, Hyperlight Energy, and Sunvapor Inc.

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About David Smith (18 Articles)
Contributing editor David Smith is a writer and marketing consultant focusing on clean technology. He has held creative and marketing executive positions in technology companies and marketing agencies, and has a background in journalism and electrical engineering. He has consulted with emerging start-ups and Fortune 500 companies on market positioning, branding and communications strategies. An EV enthusiast, he has spoken on B2B marketing and social media at a variety of industry events.

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