Will U.S. solar effort fly?
2/14/2011 1:10 PM EST
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Several fab tool and materials firms have recieved awards from the U.S. Department of Energy's "SunShot" initiative.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced additional details of the Department of Energy's "SunShot" initiative to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent so that they are cost competitive at large scale with other forms of energy without subsidies before the end of the decade.
By reducing the cost for utility scale installations by about 75 percent to roughly $1 a watt—which would correspond to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour—solar energy systems could be broadly deployed across the country.
The question is whether the program will work? The DOE's approach consists of 2 to 3 years of "horizontal" research and development (R&D) work focused on reducing PV modules, power electronics, and balance-of-system (BOS) costs. This will be followed by 2 to 3 years of intense "vertically integrated" systems-level demonstration projects that will demonstrate the commercial viability of the $1 per watt approach.
In any case, the projects include the following awards:
*1366 Technologies has been awarded $3 million. The goal of this project is to further develop a new, manufacturing process that dramatically reduces the cost of producing silicon wafers for use in silicon PV modules. The company's direct Wafer process delivers improvements in manufacturing efficiency since it does not require sawing individual wafers from blocks of silicon.
*3M has been awarded $4.4 million. The goal of this project is to develop and commercialize a flexible, highly transparent ultra barrier topsheet that will enable successful commercialization of flexible photovoltaic modules.
*PPG has been awarded $3.1 million. The goal of this project is to develop the materials, coating designs, and manufacturing processes necessary to commercialize a new glass article for the Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) module manufacturing industry.
*Varian Semiconductor has been awarded $4.8 million. The goal of this project is to reduce the cost of manufacturing interdigitated back contact cells, the most efficient silicon solar cells on the market.
*Veecco Instruments Inc. has been awarded $4.8 million by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to accelerate the research and development and commercialization of its copper, indium, gallium, selenium (CIGS) deposition systems.
As part of the Department's commitment to support solar energy technologies, DOE is investing up to $7 million to fund the latest round of is Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Incubator Program.
The Tier I projects are as follows:
*Caelux is developing a flexible solar cell manufacturing process and design that minimizes the amount of semiconducting material used. This has the potential to significantly improve device efficiency while dramatically reducing production costs.
*Solexant is developing a new thin film material from substances that are non-toxic and not rare. These devices will be constructed with a nanoparticle ink that can be printed and will result in commercially viable efficiencies using scalable, low cost processes.
*Stion is developing a thin film technology that will allow two high-efficiency thin film solar devices to be stacked, allowing for much better absorption of light and power generation. The device is constructed in a way that significantly reduces cost, simplifies manufacturing and reduces materials utilization over traditional designs.
The Tier II projects are as follows:
*Crystal Solar s developing a new technology for the fabrication, handling, processing, and packaging of very thin single crystal silicon wafers (four times thinner than standard cells). This solution uses much less silicon, eliminates many of the wasteful and expensive wafer processing steps and addresses the problem of handling very thin wafers.