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US invests $13.7 million in solar energy projects.

26 Mar 2008

Eleven projects have won funding to develop advanced photovoltaic technologies, as Washington aims to make solar energy cost-competitive by 2015.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has earmarked up to $13.7 million over the next three years for the eleven selected research projects, while agreed cost sharing with the universities and industry partners should boost the total investment across all the projects to $17.4 million. "These projects will help meet President Bush's goal of making clean and renewable solar power commercially viable by 2015," said Alexander Karsner of the DOE.

The selected research projects are claimed to have the potential to reduce the cost of electricity produced by photovoltaic (PV) methods from current levels of $0.18-$0.23 per Kilowatt hour to as little as $0.05 per kWh, a price that the DOE believes will be competitive in markets nationwide. The presence of industrial partners in each project is intended to ensure a focus on commercialization and rapid progress to market.

DOE funding for individual projects ranges from $0.6 million to $1.5 million, and will support the development of technologies such as tunable narrow bandgap absorbers, synthesis techniques for novel PV materials and reliability evaluation testing of concentrator PVs, among other studies.

The largest grant has been awarded to the University of Delaware's Institute of Energy Conversion (UD IEC), which will receive $3.75 million for two separate projects. In the first, researchers at IEC will work with Dow Corning to develop flexible copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) solar cells based on a low-cost stainless steel substrate coated with silicon. This can withstand the high processing temperatures needed to produce high-quality CIGS films using roll-to-roll techniques. The target is to produce cells with efficiencies greater than 12%, which would allow a 1 m2 panel to generate 120 W of electricity.

The IEC will also collaborate with SunPower, a manufacturer of high-efficiency crystalline solar cells, to couple amorphous silicon films with crystalline silicon wafers to enable low-temperature processing and enhance electrical performance. The goal here is to increase efficiencies beyond 26%.

Other projects funded by the DOE are:

• Arizona State University with SolFocus and Soliant Energy: Reliability evaluation of concentrator photovoltaics per IEC qualification specifications.

• California Institute of Technology with Spectrolab: 100 mm engineered InP on Si laminate substrates for InP-based multijunction solar cells.

• Georgia Institute of Technology with Sixtron: Rear contact technologies for next generation high-efficiency commercial silicon solar cells.

• Massachusetts Institute of Technology with CaliSolar and BP Solar: Defect engineering, cell processing, and modelling for high-performance, low-cost crystalline silicon photovoltaics.

• North Carolina State University with Spectrolab: Tunable narrow bandgap absorbers for ultra high efficiency multijunction solar cells.

• Pennsylvania State University with Honeywell: Organic semiconductor heterojunction solar cells for efficient, low-cost, large area scalable solar energy conversion.

• University of Florida with Global Solar Energy, International Solar Electric Technology, Nanosolar and Solyndra: Routes for rapid synthesis of CIGS absorbers.

• University of Toledo with Calyxo USA: Improved atmospheric vapour pressure deposition to produce thin CdTe absorber layers.

• University of Toledo with Xunlight: High-rate fabrication of a-Si-based thin-film solar cells using large-area VHF PECVD.

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