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Consortium Grants $7M to Lower Cost of Large-Scale Solar

STANFORD, Calif., May 21, 2012 — The Bay Area Photovoltaic Consortium (BAPVC), an industry-supported program led by Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, received its first research grants aimed at making utility-scale solar power cost-competitive by the end of the decade, it said.

“Our goal is to develop low-cost solar cells that can go into production within the decade,” said John Benner, BAPVC executive director. “We’re looking to develop improvements to existing technologies that industry can implement very quickly. That’s the beauty of these awards.”

The three-year, $7.5 million grants will be given to 18 researchers at BAPVC partner institutions: Stanford, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The consortium was established in April 2011 with a five-year, $25 million award from the US Department of Energy (DoE) and will bring together industry and academic experts to identify critical challenges in photovoltaic manufacturing. It has more than two dozen corporations participating, 11 of which are companies that have enrolled as industry members, contributing a combined total of more than $500,000 in annual fees to support university-led research.


The Bay Area Photovoltaic Consortium aims to significantly reduce the installed cost of utility-scale photovoltaic systems, like the 14-mW solar plant at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (Image: US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay)

The overall research agenda is controlled by the member companies. The members also help review and recommend research proposals with the strongest technical merits and commercial potential.

“We’re not only funding university research,” said BAPVC co-director Yi Cui. “We have created an environment where universities and industry from across the country can communicate. It’s really a national consortium.”

$1 per watt

The new consortium is a key part of the DoE’s Sunshot Initiative to reduce the installed price of large-scale photovoltaic systems from $3 per watt to $1 per watt by 2020 without government subsidies.

Currently, only about 1 percent of the electricity generated in the US comes from solar power. Solar-generated electricity would become comparable in cost to electricity produced from coal-powered power plants if manufacturers cut the cost down to $1 per watt.

“To achieve the DoE’s aggressive price reduction of $1 per watt by 2020, the module cost will have to go below 50 cents per watt,” Cui said. “That is the goal of the consortium.”

To achieve this feat, the consortium has adopted a whole-module approach to its research efforts.

“Innovation will be required in every component of a solar cell module in order to achieve a price of 50 cents per watt,” said Ali Javey, BAPVC co-director and an associate professor at UC Berkeley. “While the solutions may be revolutionary, they must also be timely. We’re looking for innovative technologies that can be transferred from the laboratory to industry in three to five years, and into full-scale production by 2020.”

“The most direct way to reduce cost is to double the efficiency,” Benner said. “We’re aiming at technologies that will increase the efficiency of thin-film modules from 12 percent, where they are today, to 20 percent within five years.”

One of the consortium’s teams, led by Eli Yablonovitch of UC Berkeley, has developed high-voltage solar cell absorbers that achieve 34 percent efficiency. (See: LED-Like Solar Cell Absorbs, Emits Light)

New nanofabrication techniques that would make metallic electrodes virtually invisible to incoming light are being developed at Stanford by Mark Brongersma.

“Light management is very important,” Benner said. “If you can do that well, you can make the devices 10 times thinner than they are today. Ten times thinner means that the manufacturing throughput could operate 10 times faster and consume 10 times less material, so it’s a win-win on the cost side as well.”

Ways to improve the encapsulation system are also being researched. The consortium is funding a research team from LBNL, SLAC, UC Berkeley and Stanford to create superior and low-cost barrier layers made of a novel polymer-nanocrystal composite.

For more information, visit: www.stanford.edu


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