August 4, 2014

Solar Energy in the Mile High City

This year I had the honour of attending the IEEE’s 40th Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (PVSC) in Denver, Colorado on behalf of the Photovoltaic Innovation Network (PVIN). PVSC is one of the largest solar energy conferences in the world, bringing people from all over the world together to discuss the recent advances in photovoltaics and the next steps and challenges we face as a community. By far the most impressive talk I saw this year was from a representative from SunPower Corporation. SunPower is a company that produces and sells solar modules. For many years they have held the record of having the highest efficiency cells for commercial single junction crystalline silicon solar cells. Their solar cell is an all-back contact solar cell, meaning that the metal contact fingers used to extract electrons generated by light are all on the back side of the cell. This innovation completely eliminates the problem more traditional solar cells face, where light is reflected off more
July 3, 2014

Innovation at CanSIA 2013

During CanSIA 2013, I had the chance to see how the Canadian solar industry is progressing.  From tracking systems, to new panel types, to mounting racks and more, there was a lot to see and learn. What interested me most was how solar energy is finding success in numerous niche markets.  While photovoltaic power generation is not going to become the leading source of electrical power for the foreseeable future, the modularity and flexibility of photovoltaics are proving quite resourceful.  This is what I believe to be the true innovation in the photovoltaic industry.  By finding applications in which photovoltaics excel, the rate of adoption, along with economic and environmental savings, will really help make an immediate and long-term difference in people’s lives. For example, while AC electric motors can be quite inefficient, solar-powered pool pumps can be made using a relatively simple setup where the power from the solar panels can drive an efficient DC motor to pump water. more
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 more
May 31, 2014

The FIT Program and the Growing Pains of the Green Energy Act

Every year, the Solar Canada conference brings together the key stakeholders in the solar photovoltaics (PV) industry in Canada.  Both the formal discussions during the plenary sessions and the informal offline discussions that that take place during the conference have a major impact on the direction of the solar industry in Canada.   As we approached the 5th anniversary of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, it appeared that many of the stakeholders were reflecting on the origins of the Green Energy Act, evaluating the impact of the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program, and projecting on what the future of the FIT program will look like. The FIT program was born out of 2009’s Green Energy Act with the purpose of creating a simple, streamlined method of increasing the grid-connected generation capacity of renewable energy sources (e.g. solar, wind, etc.) in Ontario.  In addition to displacing generation sources with high greenhouse gas emissions such as coal fired power plants, one of the goals of more
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 more
May 1, 2014

Status of Organic Photovoltaics

The 28th European photovoltaic solar energy conference and exhibition (EU PVSEC) was held in Paris from September 30 to October 4, 2013.  This European event attracted conference delegates and exhibition attendees from around the globe.  The scientific conference featured acclaimed international researchers who discussed their ground breaking research in numerous sectors related to solar energy.  This multi-disciplinary aspect is one of the greatest attributes of the EU PVSEC.  This international congress helps unify the many fields associated with photovoltaic solar energy research and development. An emerging PV sector, encompassing a diverse array of young solar technologies, includes dye-sensitized, organic, inorganic, quantum dot and perovskite cells. This sector of third generation cells has seen a large improvement in power conversion efficiencies over the past 5 years.  This year’s world record perovskite cell reached an efficiency of 14.1%, which surpasses the dye-sensitized record of 11.9%.  The efficiency of organic cells (OPV) has doubled in less than half a decade from 5% to over 10%. more
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 more
March 31, 2014

Fun times in Paris at EUPVSEC 2013!

This year I had the honour of attending the 28th European Photovoltaic Conference and Exhibition (EUPVSEC) in none other than Paris, France! This year’s conference had 1752 research and industrial contributions from 76 countries all over the world. These numbers give you an idea of just how international this conference is! Owing to the fact that EUPVSEC is one of the largest conferences on photovoltaics in the world, this conference had something for everyone who works in the field. The topics ranged from basic research such as promising new materials, to talks on policy and how solar energy fits in amongst other sources energy. This conference is truly an industrial conference however, with most talks focusing on the development and characterization of existing solar technologies, and the improvement of the processes used to make solar cells. Silicon, the most predominant material used in solar cells, was thus featured very heavily in the conference presentations. This was good for me since more
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 more
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 more