Builders of Energy-Efficient Technologies

IEEE Fellows laid the groundwork for helping cities cut energy costs

11 June 2014

This article is part of our series highlighting IEEE Fellows in celebration of the Fellow program's 50th-anniversary year.

LEDs, solar photovoltaic panels, and the smart grid are just three of the technologies helping cities use energy more wisely. But these underpinnings would not be possible without the work of these IEEE Fellows.


achieveHolonyak Photo: Stanford University

Life Fellow Nick Holonyak Jr. is referred to by some as the “father of the light-emitting diode” because of his invention in 1962 of the first visible-spectrum (red) LED while at General Electric, in Syracuse, N.Y. In the February 1963 issue of Reader’s Digest, he predicted that his LEDs would replace the incandescent light bulb. In 1977, Holonyak introduced a new laser—the quantum well laser—that is now used to make brighter and more efficient LEDs.

Today, LEDs are everywhere. But they especially make their mark in streetlights because they need so little power that they significantly lower a city’s electric bill. Not only do LEDs use less power than traditional sodium or metal halide fixtures, they also last longer and require virtually no maintenance for anywhere from 15 to 25 years. LEDs also produce a clearer, brighter light so both drivers and pedestrians can see better. A well-lit street can also reduce crime. And the intensity of LEDs can be readily adjusted according to the time of the day, weather conditions, and the presence of people.

Holonyak was elevated to Fellow in 1967 “for contributions to solid-state device applications, including generation of visible coherent radiation from a semiconductor junction and discovery of phonon-assisted tunneling.”

He is also the recipient of the 2003 IEEE Medal of Honor for “a career of pioneering contributions to semiconductors, including the growth of semiconductor alloys and heterojunctions, and to visible light-emitting diodes and injection lasers.” In addition, he received the U.S. National Medal of Technology in 2003.

Holonyak joined the University of Illinois, in Urbana-Champaign, in 1963, and is professor emeritus in the department of electrical and computer engineering. Read his oral history on the IEEE Global History Network.


achieveWronski Photo: Stanford University

Many cities that use solar panels to meet their electricity demands can thank IEEE Life Fellow Christopher R. Wronski for his groundbreaking work with photovoltaic solar cells. The electricity generated by the panels can power, among other things, security cameras, traffic signals, and charging stations for electric cars. One feature of so-called smart buildings is their rooftop solar panel installations.

Wronski’s research over the years significantly lowered the cost of the panels and increased their performance. He is credited with the discovery of the amorphous silicon solar cell in 1974 while at RCA David Sarnoff Research Laboratories, in Princeton, N.J. He showed that devices made from amorphous organic semiconductor films have useful photovoltaic conversion efficiencies. Their relatively low values are made up for by the fact that the photovoltaic films are less expensive to manufacture than crystalline silicon photovoltaics.

He was elevated to Fellow in 1990 “for contributions to the understanding and application of hydrogenated amorphous silicon-based materials.”

Wronski, with David L. Staebler, discovered in 1976 the reversible, light-induced changes in the optoelectronic properties of amorphous silicon, coined the Staebler-Wronski effect. This effect refers to the tendency of amorphous silicon photovoltaic cells to become less efficient when initially exposed to light, losing up to 15 percent within the first 1000 hours.

While at Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, Wronski developed several novel techniques for characterizing the optoelectronic properties of hydrogenated amorphous silicon solar cells. He is professor emeritus at the university.


achieveSchweitzer Photo: Stanford University

Long before the smart grid became a well-known term, IEEE Life Fellow Edmund O. Schweitzer III envisioned it conceptually, recognizing early in his career the importance of applying computer technology to protect and control power generation and distribution systems. Some see the smart grid playing an indispensible role at the heart of a smart city because it alone can supply power that is reliable, resilient, and sustainable. Smart grids also help cities use electricity more efficiently, automate certain processes, and integrate renewable energy sources like solar panels. Digital methods enable engineers to locate power outages more quickly and protect against widespread loss of service compared with relying on traditional electromechanical protective relays.

Many in the power industry told him that applying digital technology to power systems was impractical, but that didn’t stop him. He founded Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in 1982, in Pullman, Wash., to develop and manufacture digital protective relays. He is still president and CEO of the company. The company’s products have enhanced the safety and reliability of electric power generation, transmission, and distribution. Its equipment is in service around the world at voltages from 5 kV to 500 kV, protecting feeders, motors, transformers, capacitor banks, transmission lines, and other power devices.

Schweitzer was elevated to Fellow in 1991 for “contributions in the development of integrated metering, fault locating, event recording, and protective relay systems using microprocessor technology.”

Visit the IEEE Fellow website to learn more about the Fellow program. Nominations for the class of 2016 are being accepted now.

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