Looking back as I finish my Master’s, I am able to look back fondly on the exchange opportunities brought on through my work with the Photovoltaic Innovation Network. In particular I look back to the 28th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EU PVSEC) and the boost it provided to my research. This is the largest solar conference, featuring 1,300 presentations from 6,500 authors and co-authors in 86 countries.

In research, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. These conferences are a great method to learn about everything in the field of solar energy.

The 1,300 presentations are split into oral and poster presentations across the following 7 categories:

  1. New Materials and Concepts for Solar Cells and Modules
  2. Wafer-Based Silicon Solar Cells and Materials Technology
  3. Thin Film Solar Cells and Modules
  4. Solar Cells / Assemblies / Modules for Terrestrial Concentrator
  5. Operations, Performance and Reliability of Photovoltaics
  6. PV Applications
  7. PV – A Major Electricity Source

My research revolved around designing and characterizing third generation phovoltaics, so I was naturally drawn to the first category of presentations. Each of the categories cover diverse topics which allows you to learn about each of the knowns.

Listening to the presentations on the known knowns seems like a redundant task, but there is still value there. These talks are usually the plenary talk from well established companies to give to the entire conference. They give an overview of the category and the record holders within. They are a source of inspiration when they mention your topic’s progress and future possibilities which you may well discover.

With each day hosting dozens of talks in each of the categories, you can skip a talk which would reinforce a known known and head to a talk to learn something new from your list of known unknowns. Planning out your schedule at the conference is the key to attending the best talks. The conference offers an online Personal Program Planner, which improves each year.

Finding the source of unknown unknowns requires a bit more luck and they come when you least expect them. They could come during the middle of a talk you thought was a known known when they talk about additional processing steps or different characterization methods. Another chance is while speaking with a poster presenter and the conversation works its way into your research. They often arise when out to dinner with your colleagues from your project.

There is an impossible amount of knowledge for one person to handle on their own. These conferences are the best opportunities for collaboration to conquer all types of knowns because they bring so many people together. I hope every researcher gets a chance to experience a conference like the ones I was lucky enough to attend.

Dan Frisina
Master’s student
Engineering Physics
McMaster University