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Bay Area Consortium to Fund Large-Scale Solar R&D

Technicians in front solar panel array (NREL)

(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

The Bay Area Photovoltaic Consortium (BAPVC) unveiled its first research grants aimed at making utility-scale solar power cost-competitive by the end of the decade. The new funds from the consortium — an industry-backed venture led by Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley — total $7.5 million.

The grants will support 18 projects at BAPVC partner institutions: Stanford, UC-Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The three-year grants are expected to develop new technologies that aim to reduce the cost of photovoltaic modules and make large-scale solar technology cheaper for electric utilities by 2020.

BAPVC was formed in April 2011, funded by a $25 million grant from Department of Energy. The consortium says it finds and funds research in universities in the U.S. to advance photovoltaic manufacturing technologies, focusing on innovations that can be transferred to industry within three to five years.

The 18 BAPVC grant recipients are expected to develop new materials and processes that improve efficiency and drive down the manufacturing cost of solar module components. In a utility-scale photovoltaic system, says BAPVC, about half of the installed cost goes into permits, power electronics, mounting hardware and other on-site construction costs. The solar module itself accounts for about half of the cost.

One research team, led by Eli Yablonovitch, an electrical engineering and computer sciences professor at UC-Berkeley, is developing high-voltage solar cell absorbers with an efficiency of 34 percent. Several researchers are testing nanotechnologies that could improve the absorption and trapping of sunlight.

One of the nanotechnology projects, led by Mark Brongersma, a materials science and engineering professor at Stanford, involves new nano-fabrication techniques that would make metallic electrodes virtually invisible to incoming light, leading to thinner devices that would be less expensive to make. Researchers are also looking for ways to improve the encapsulation system on solar modules, the glass and polymer sheets that protect the solar cell from the environment.

Some 25 industry members and associates of BAPVC help establish the group’s overall research agenda, and review and recommend research proposals with the strongest technical merits and commercial potential. Eleven industry members have contributed more than $500,000 in annual fees to support the research.

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