Photovoltaic Efficiency – Why Solar Investment Matters

The failure of Solyndra along with the associated questions about the propriety of government investment is leading many people to the wrong conclusion.  Solar technology is not a failure; government decision-making may be.

The potential for improvements in solar technology is evident; companies like First Solar are making continued advances in lowering the cost per watt of energy production to a far more competitive figure.  Laser Focus World is a monthly magazine about laser technology and optics, and it has been published since 1965.  Jeff Hecht, one of the editors of the magazine, has written about advances in photovoltaics, including the potential for greater efficiency in photo voltaic cells’ capability to convert sunlight to energy.  He cites much research that points in the direction of solar technology’s becoming a real competitor to fossil fuels.

For example, thin film technologies, used by First Solar and Abound Solar, a company that has also received federal support for loans, are making slow, but continued progress.  W. S. Sampath, a professor at Colorado State University where I was president, continues to study thin film technologies.  He believes that new, more complex alloys and materials will provide the key to greater efficiency; we look forward to the results of his research.

Brian Korgel, the Matthew Van Winkle Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, made a recent presentation to prospective graduate students about advances in materials science.  The presentation pointed to several areas of optimism about solar, including improvements in high efficiency films used in photo voltaic cells.

Perhaps the most recent article addressing improvements to solar technology appeared in the most recent issue of Renewable Energy, a journal of The World Renewable Energy Network.  The article was written by Vidya S. Taur and colleagues from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, and it examined the role that annealing could play in improving the conversion efficiency of a photovoltaic module.  Annealing is a heat treatment that alters a material’s properties; in the case of this research, annealing did improve efficiency.

We need this sort of research, and we need the role and potential of solar energy in raising U.S. energy independence and in leading us toward sustainable energy production.  It is my hope that Congress will address the decision-making associated with government investment but continue funding of research that will, like many market-tested technologies, create jobs for the U. S., make improvements in our quality of life, and add to the wealth of those who invest in it.

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