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US Government Puts $130 Million More Into Solar Tech

Continuing a decades-long trend, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has put a few million dollars into further research and development of solar power technologies — $130 million, to be precise.

Continuing a decades-long trend, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has put a few million dollars into further research and development of solar power technologies — $130 million, to be precise.

The goals of the funding are to “reduce the cost of solar, increase U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, and improve the reliability of the nation’s electric grid.”

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$130 million may sound like a lot on the surface, but in the context of the US Department of Energy budget, it’s tiny. Also, considering that the $130 million gets spread across dozens of projects, the support for each effort is probably not as significant as it seems at first glance.

Though, $130 million is $130 million more than $0 — and a few million dollars here and a few million dollars there can lead to some exciting successes. So, let’s take a look at some of the 67 research projects across 30 states that the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office is sending $130 million to.

This first round of projects we’re looking at concern PV Hardware Research. Here’s how the DOE summarizes this segment of the awards: “$14 million for eight projects that aim to make PV systems last longer and increase the reliability of solar systems made of silicon solar cells, as well as new technologies like thin-film and bifacial solar cells.” Awardee details from the DOE:

Arizona State University

Project Name: The Role of Hydrogen in the Performance and Long-Term Stability of High-Efficiency Silicon Cells and Modules
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Principal Investigator: Mariana Bertoni
Project Summary: Module reliability has typically been measured by EVA yellowing, corrosion, delamination and backsheet cracking. As the understanding of these issues improves along with the materials used, the small variations at the cell level will start dominating the overall response of the module. This project takes a closer look at the main drivers of degradation at the cell level, many of which stem from hydrogen incorporation into the structures. The project team is working to understand and model the effects of hydrogen in the different layers of the cell and at its critical interfaces by testing hydrogen under external stressors in order to propose a path that would extend the performance of these architectures for successful use as tandem subcells.

Clemson University

Project Name: Tool for Reliability Assessment of Critical Electronics in PV (TRACE-PV)
Location: N. Charleston, SC
DOE Award Amount: $1,600,000
Awardee Cost Share: $440,000
Principal Investigator: Zheyu Zhang
Project Summary: Field data from photovoltaic (PV) power plant operators shows that power electronics converters are responsible for between 43% and 70% of the service calls. This project is developing a Tool for Reliability Assessment of Critical Electronics in PV (TRACE-PV), which is capable of predicting the lifetime, understanding the physics-to-failure mechanisms that manifest, and assessing the levelized cost of energy. The team will validate and demonstrate the accuracy and broad applicability of the TRACE-PV tool through accelerated life testing, field reliability data, and case studies considering different PV techniques. If successful, this project will enable PV inverter developers to understand reliability bottlenecks so they can improve the next-generation designs and evaluate new techniques’ influence on inverter reliability. Additionally, it will enable utility-scale PV operators to fairly quantify PV inverter reliability from different vendors, assess the remaining useful life of inverters under operation, and schedule maintenance in advance.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Project Name: Development of ~ 25% Efficient Double Side Screen Printed Poly-Si/SiOx Passivated Contact Solar Cells
Location: Atlanta, GA
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $380,000
Principal Investigator: Ajeet Rohatgi
Project Summary: Very few contact layers for silicon (Si) photovoltaic (PV) cells can achieve efficiency higher than 25% at a lower cost than Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC). One promising candidate to surpass PERC are Tunnel Oxide Passivated poly-Si SiOx contacts (TOPCon), but currently these contacts can only be used on the back side of Si PV cells rather than both sides. This is because the TOPCon layer absorbs some sunlight before it reaches the active PV material, which decreases the cell’s efficiency. It is also currently expensive to screen-print TOPCon layers on very thin poly-Si layers. Recently, the project team succeeded in making a double-sided screen-printed TOPCon Si PV cell with ≥ 22% efficiency. The team will use these methods to screen-print TOPCon layers on thin (≤ 20 nm) poly-Si layers. They will also improve the TOPCon layer itself by decreasing charge recombination and incorporating oxygen to expand its bandgap, which will reduce the amount of sunlight it absorbs. If successful, the team will produce a low-cost, commercial-ready ≥ 24.5% efficient Si PV cell with double-side screen-printed TOPCon layers.

University of Central Florida

Project Name: Developing PID Susceptibility Models for Bifacial PV Module Technologies
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Principal Investigator: Joseph Walters
Project Summary: Bifacial photovoltaics (PV) are predicted to account for more than a 50% share of the PV market by 2026. This project team is constructing a bifacial cell that is significantly different than the aluminum back surface field cells that have dominated the bifacial PV market in years past. These bifacial cells will be incorporated into bifacial modules as well as monofacial modules. The team will analyze how this novel cell construction is affected by high voltage conditions by measuring its performance and developing corresponding models to characterize any degradation caused by the high voltage.

University of Central Florida

Project Name: Gaining Fundamental Understanding of Critical Failure Modes and Degradation Mechanisms in Fielded Photovoltaic Modules via Multiscale Characterization
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $510,000
Principal Investigator: Kristopher Davis
Project Summary: This project applies multiscale characterization methods to field exposed photovoltaic (PV) modules to link observed performance degradation to specific loss mechanisms and, ultimately, to root causes. This research will be carried out on a very large and diverse population of modules to ensure statistical relevance. The team will perform multiple iterations of down-selection beginning with large-scale analysis of time-series, current-voltage data, followed by the application of both traditional and more novel on-site characterization methods. The analysis will be used to select modules for further characterization in a controlled lab setting, then to make assessments on the most likely root cause of the observed failure modes and degradation mechanisms. From those modules, individual regions of interest will be identified for targeted materials characterization to provide final confirmation of the root cause.

University of Delaware

Project Name: In-Situ Antimony Doped Polycrystalline CdTe Films for Simplified Cell Processing and Maximized Energy Yield
Location: Newark, DE
DOE Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Principal Investigator: Brian McCandless
Project Summary: This project is advancing cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cell open circuit voltage and reliability through antimony doped CdTe cells. The team will conduct theoretical defect calculations, defect analysis, and modeling to simplify cell fabrication and improve cell performance and reliability. The project results will reduce the levelized cost of electricity for solar energy by reducing module processing steps and increasing reliability over deployment time.

University of Maryland: College Park

Project Name: Integrated Approach to Ancillary PV Component Reliability Assessment
Location: College Park, MD
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $410,000
Principal Investigator: Patrick McCluskey
Project Summary: This project is developing an integrated approach to assessing the reliability of power electronic components in photovoltaic (PV) systems. The new approach is based on the development of physics-informed degradation models embedded in digital twins, or digital replicas of power electronic components, then validated with accelerated life testing and field data. The team will record the causes of abnormal behavior in the power electronic devices and the amount of time taken to reach failure, then calibrate and validate against accelerated life testing and field performance and reliability data collected on actual electronic components found in PV systems.

University of Washington

Project Name: Forecasting Perovskite Photovoltaic Device Performance using Dark-Field Imaging and Machine Learning
Location: Seattle, WA
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $380,000
Principal Investigator: Hugh Hillhouse
Project Summary: Photovoltaic (PV) devices with combinations of low-cost, high power conversion efficiency, and low degradation rates are necessary in order to achieve a levelized cost of electricity of $0.03per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Hybrid perovskites (HPs) are expected to have sufficiently-low expected cost and sufficiently-high power conversion efficiency to achieve this goal, though long-term stability is a concern due to the existence of several degradation pathways. This project is developing accurate forecasting models for device performance lifetime of state-of-the-art all-perovskite tandem solar cells using machine learning models that will account for device-to-device variation. The forecasting model will predict the tandem power-conversion efficiency under standard operating conditions, which will be validated with new conformal prediction methods, along with comparison to in-the-field device monitoring. The forecasting models will also provide important data that will improve device architecture and encapsulation strategies to extend the performance lifetime.

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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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