Solar Cell Researchers’ Days in the Sun

Conference brings together photovoltaic scientists

7 May 2014
Photo: Getty Images

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Solar power has come a long way from the days when photovoltaic cells were too expensive for use anywhere but on the skin of a spacecraft. Its earthbound applications are now everywhere. According to GTM Research, a market analysis company in Boston, it took nearly 40 years to reach 50 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic capacity worldwide, but that figure doubled between January 2011 and August 2013, and is expected to double again by late 2016. Since 1961, the researchers and materials scientists attending the IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (PVSC) have helped bring this about. This year’s conference—from 8 to 13 June in Denver—is sponsored by the IEEE Electron Devices, Power & Energy, Photonics, and Reliability societies as well as IEEE-USA.

“We try to cover all the bases, from fundamental principles to deployed systems, manufacturing, and public policy,” says conference chair Richard R. King. “But we’ve always been particularly strong on materials science and the device physics of photovoltaics.” IEEE Senior Member King is principal scientist and technical Fellow at Spectrolab in Sylmar, Calif.

In response to the growth of the PV technical community, Angele Reinders, the meeting’s technical program chair, has expanded the program to 12 areas.  A new interdisciplinary area, PV deployment, will focus on technical, economic, and political challenges associated with high penetration of PV systems in electric power grids and in society. A PV module and manufacturing area will cover innovations in manufacturing. Other topic areas include solar cell materials (chalcogenide thin-film, crystalline silicon, thin-film silicon, and III-V, as well as organic), solar concentrators, and materials characterization (measuring materials and devices to understand their physical and chemical properties). 

“Improved manufacturing processes and other developments mean you can now offer high reliability and 30-year warranties on PV modules,” says IEEE Member Robert Walters, the meeting’s publicity chair and a research physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

Authors of the most highly rated papers, as expressed in four or more reviews from PV experts on the conference program committee, will be invited to submit their papers to the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics.

More than half the participants are expected to be from outside the United States. The more than 1100 papers submitted—about 1000 have been accepted—come from 49 countries, continuing the PVSC’s strong international tradition. Because China has become a major factor in photovoltaic manufacturing and deployment, several sessions will feature real-time translation between English and Chinese.

TUTORIALS, TOO

Experts from chemistry, materials, physics, and engineering will present 10 tutorials on a wide range of technologies important for photovoltaics research and application. The half-day tutorials will include an introduction to photovoltaics, chalcogenide thin-film solar cells, multijunction III-V solar cells for terrestrial concentrators and space, PV efficiencies beyond the Shockley-Queisser limit, silicon solar-cell technology, electro-optical and structural characterization, and distributed grid-integration of PV systems. The various solar cell technologies treated have varying costs, with efficiencies ranging from about 10 percent to nearly 45 percent. 

The tutorials and an all-day short course on thin-film deposition will take place at the beginning of the conference. “Some will be basic for newcomers to the field, but others are more advanced, designed for experts,” says Walters. 

To encourage their participation, the PVSC offers students a large discount on registration; has a graduate-student assistance program, with free registration plus a small stipend in return for students’ work on conference logistics; gives awards for the best student paper in each technical area; and starts off the conference with a mixer for students and young professionals who have earned their degrees within the past five years.

MORE ACTIVITIES

Other activities include a Women in Photovoltaics networking lunch, a job fair, and a tour of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in nearby Golden, Colo. For the public, there will be the annual High School Photovoltaic Design Competition and PVSC Solar Day, where local companies can show the progress of their efforts in the state to generate solar electricity.

 “The PVSC community is driven by a passion to advance the understanding of photovoltaics and to hasten the widespread availability of affordable and reliable solar energy,” says IEEE Member Rebekah Feist, the conference’s deputy publicity chair. Part of that passion comes from the knowledge that continuing to use fossil fuel has serious consequences for the environment and for political stability globally. 

“Eliminating the need for fossil fuels by shifting to PV-based, distributed-energy generation will help stabilize the global political situation,” says Walters.

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