Solar Energy

June 22, 2014

The Future of Solar Farms by 2030 – Competing Visions at CanSIA’s Solar Canada 2013

Among the plethora of interesting talks to go to at the Solar Canada Conference this past December, there was one in particular that stood out to me as by far the most intriguing. It was a discussion panel consisting of four panelists: Tom Rand, from the MRS Cleantech Venture Group; Tyler Hamilton, the author of “Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy;” John Paul Morgan, Founder, CTO, and President of Morgan Solar; and Erik Bakke, Director of Sales for Alion Energy. The topic: The Future of Solar Farms by 2030. All the panelists seemed to have very unique and differing opinions about what direction utility level solar will take. Tom Rand was the most conservative of the panelists. He believed that utility level solar will be at the same stage of development as rooftop solar is right now, namely that it will be starting to reach cost competitiveness with the rest of the grid and

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May 16, 2014

Export or Perish: Solar Canada 2013’s Implicit Slogan

Canada’s annual Solar Trade Show and Expo gave firms a clear message: the future of the solar industry is international.  When Ontario’s feed-in tariff for solar was introduced, many hoped for an explosion of “green jobs.” These appeared, though observers tempered their enthusiasm as most of the products were destined for the domestic market. A 2012 report by Navigant indicated that the Canadian solar industry still has a long way to go in becoming a viable export sector. If Solar Canada 2013 indicated anything, this drive is no longer just a political preference, but a business necessity. With solar deployment winding down in Ontario, there is both pessimism regarding international competition and acute awareness of the need to export. Nicholas Morgan, VP of business development at MorganSolar, spoke to me incredulously of solar companies who rely on Ontario’s policy-driven market. In the opening plenary, Canadian solar business leaders discussed some of Canada’s advantages. The idea of “Team Canada” was thrown around

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April 23, 2014

Organic photovoltaics at EUPVSEC 2013

The 28th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition had many different topics regarding solar energy. From the latest design of cell structure to the marketing of new concepts, every attendee should have seen some recent developments in the field of photovoltaic solar energy. For me, a synthetic chemist, I was most interested in talks regarding organic photovoltaics. Luckily, the keynote speech about organic photovoltaics this year was given by  Prof. Jan Cornelis Hummelen, a world renowned researcher in this field. First, Prof. Hummelen reported some recent progress made in different subdivisions of organic solar cells. Heliateck achieved 12.0 % photo conversion efficiency (PCE) on tandem structures using small molecule organic semiconductors. Compared to the 10.7% they reported last year, this is a fairly impressive achievement. It was also noted in the speech that the all-polymer cell had reached 6.4% efficiency while the triple junction tandem cell had made its way to 9.6%. The tandem cell using standard polymer-fullerene bulk

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March 16, 2014

Kindling the Rivalry Between Silicon and So-called “Fringe Technologies”

Perhaps it is the subtle challenge made by the silicon PV industry that remains most clear in my mind after returning to the SUNLAB after a week of technical presentations at EU-PVSEC 2013.  The rivalry is not new.  In fact, statements asserting silicon’s dominance represent a broad summary of the opinions conveyed about the future of the photovoltaic industry at the conference.   Those statements likely would have slipped transparently through my tired conscience if not for the nagging objection that the arguments for studying alternative PV technologies seem to ring as true today as they did when the price of silicon panels was still at $2.00 per Watt.   So does the emphasis on the plummeting price of flat panels mean that all of us working on so called “fringe technologies” (which include, by deployment volume, higher efficiency CPV and lower efficiency thin film strategies along with pretty well everything else the PVIN funds) should pack it in and start working

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February 23, 2014

Power Quality Research at EU PVSEC

EU PVSEC in Paris was my very first conference related to solar energy. Since my field of study relates more to the system side of photovoltaics, I was happy to see that this conference had its fair share of talks on system research. From energy yield analysis and prediction methods to the effect of PV on the grid, even after selecting the most interesting subject to shorten the list, it was impossible to attend all the presentations. I can’t even imagine what it was like for my colleagues who study solar cells when the conference had about three times as many talks on the solar cells than it had on systems. Although I have a lot of respect for my colleges  performing research in improving the efficiency of the solar cells, I believe that the future of the photovoltaics as a major energy producer will depend much more on the quality of the power it delivers to the grid than

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December 12, 2013

Photon Up- and Down-Conversion at IEEE PVSC

Another day, another interesting idea. The ideas were not from my own brain, of course, but from the minds of others. A recent trip to the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (PVSC) in Tampa led to both ingredients mentioned by Einstein in his recipe for genius: inspiration (from conference speakers) and perspiration (from Tampa weather). Although all of us PVINers had some talks to attend on technology related to our specific research, it was often in the talks on “Fundamentals and New Concepts for Future Technologies”, or “Area 1”, that one found new ideas that could potentially be applied to a wide-variety of technology bases. This was so much the case, that “when in doubt, go to Area 1” became a mantra. Such wandering brought me to the talks on “up-conversion” and “down-conversion”. Up-Conversion and Down-Conversion of Photons The conversion of photons of one frequency to those of a different frequency is referred to as either up- or down-conversion. This new

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November 28, 2013

PVSC 2013-Fun Times in Florida!

I recently had the opportunity (and pleasure!) of attending the 39th Photovoltaics Specialists Conference (PVSC) in Tampa, Florida. The conference, which is put on by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is an annual meeting of scientists and engineers who work in the field of solar energy. PVSC attracts people from all over the world to come and share their research on some of the cutting-edge topics in the field. In this entry I will be providing some highlights of the trip, especially topics that were of interest to me. I once again had the honour of hosting (alongside other HQP) the Photovoltaic Innovation Network (PVIN) booth. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, the booth is where we get to represent Canada’s research in photovoltaics. A lot of companies and Universities outside of Canada do not know exactly what we do up in Canada in regards to photovoltaic research, so the booth gives us an opportunity

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November 18, 2013

PVSC 2013-Tandem CIGS Solar Cells

A subject that caught my attention during the 39th edition of the Photovoltaic Specialist Conference (PVSC) was a poster from Toshiba Corporation [1] about the study of a homojunction CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenium) solar cell. CIGS solar cells are gaining more and more interest in the photovoltaic community as a thin film solar cell due to the material’s high absorptivity, low cost and relatively high power conversion efficiency.  Standard CIGS solar cell consists of a p-type CIGS base, n-type CdS emitter and a ZnO transparent conductive oxide. This heterojunction between CIGS and CdS results in a conduction band offset. The heterojunction structure is used due to the fact that it is hard to get high enough levels of n-type doping in CIGS. P-type doping in CIGS is usually done intrinsically through Cu vacancies, which act as acceptors. To achieve n-type doping, a donor material would need to be introduced into CIGS.  In their poster, the Toshiba corporation group reported

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October 31, 2013

Spectrum Splitting and Thin Film Photovoltaics at PVSC 2013

At the 39th Photovoltaic Specialist Conference in Tampa, Florida, there were two important and interesting topics which were of particular interest to me. The first one was covered by Harry A. Atwater, California Institute of Technology (http://daedalus.caltech.edu/research/thinfilmpv.php) “Full Spectrum High Efficiency Photovoltaics” [1]. He was discussing a new concept: splitting the incident solar spectrum into its constituent wavelengths, guiding these different wavelengths into solar cells with different bandgaps, then absorbing them (shown in Figure 1).

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October 22, 2013

Highlights from PVSC 2013

The IEEE Photovoltaic Specialist Conference (PVSC) is renowned as one of the world’s largest photovoltaics (PV) conferences. It is also probably the oldest conference that is still been held annually. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the conference this year, for the second time. As the PV energy market is evolving from niche to mainstream, I’ve noticed some shift of focus in the topics of this year’s conference. The most noticeable would be the emphasis on the long-term reliability of PV systems. The very first plenary session on Monday morning was dedicated to PV reliability issues, with two talks covering both modeling and analysis of data collected from real field operations. While crystalline silicon is still the dominant technology, exploration into new materials and concepts has never been slowed down. It is the same with this year’s conference. It is my area of interest to discover potential new technologies that can bring fundamental improvement to the

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