Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Photovoltaics Course Approved for Fall 2008!

I just received the delightful news that we've received the green light for a semester-long PV course in the Fall of ’08, entitled “Fundamentals of Photovoltaics”! I'm REALLY looking forward to teaching this course, and interacting on a more regular basis with our brilliant students interested in PV. The course is listed as "graduate level" because of the dense content, but MIT’s way has traditionally been to extend enrollment to motivated undergraduates, and I expect this to be no different.

As it now stands, this course is envisioned to cover three areas: (1) Fundamentals of PV devices and systems, (2) Overview of commercial and pre-commercial PV technologies, and (3) Cross-cutting themes in PV (efficiency loss mechanisms, systems, reliability, cost, price, manufacturability, markets, and subsidies...). The course is designed to include a few sessions in the lab to experience PV technology first hand (probably in our group’s own lab in the basement of building 35, unless we get a communal PV equipment laboratory by then), exposure to PV modeling software, a field trip, and an exciting class project.

Additional details: The subject will be introduced as an H-Level Graduate subject under the number 2.626 to be first offered in Fall 2008 and (at present) on alternate years after that.

Special thanks to the folks who helped shape this course by providing feedback and suggestions, including (but not limited to) Ryan Boas, Jim Bredt, Nol Browne, Dave Danielson, Daniel Enderton, Adnan Esmail, Eerik Hantsoo, Dave Levy, Adam Lorenz, Jon Mapel, MR, colleagues in ME, and folks in TLL, OEIT, ACCC, ESL, and many others. There’s still an opportunity to shape it further, particularly if you have a vested interest in taking this course. Feel free to send me a note with your expectations and what/how you’d like to learn in PV, and I’ll do my best to reply over the holidays (buonassisi AT mitdotedu).

Because of preparation for this course and Dave's recent graduation, I am sorry to say that (Dr.) Dave Danielson and I will not be co-teaching the IAP PV course this January. However, I'm sure the energy club will be posting its newest listing of "IAP Energy Courses" soon... Once they’re posted, might someone kindly add a “comment” to this post with the link? Many thanks, and Happy Holidays!

PV Social III wrap-up

PV enthusiasts from MIT and the Boston Area braved inclement conditions last Thursday for the third PV Social of 2007. Despite the snowstorm that shut down (yes, closed) MIT at 2pm, Dave Danielson managed to have the Muddy Charles re-opened at 5:45pm for the event. (Talk about clout!) With fire in the hearth, pizza and beverages passed around, and a good cross section of students, professionals, and industry folks present, discussions sprung up about silicon sourcing, factory planning, supply chain management, and the latest new ideas being developed at MIT and area universities, and expectations of big things to come for PV at MIT.

The presentation by the Solar7 folks of their solar house on the Washington Mall is postponed until our next social in February.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

History of PV @ MIT: Part 1

This is the first in a series of postings, that delves into the history of PV at MIT, putting our recent "PV renaissance" into historical context.

Searching through old IEEE Photovoltaics Specialists Conference proceedings, one finds several PV-related articles from Lincoln Laboratory (MIT) in the late 1970's and early 1980's. As the savvy reader recalls, this was during the previous big PV boom, when PV research funding was high and new ideas were being generated at breakneck pace.

From Kammen and Nemet, Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2005, page 84.

Interesting to note, that many of the ideas circulating today in the PV world had been conceived by the 1980's, and Lincoln Lab played a role in this process. For a taste, check out this device architecture described in this article from 1982 by John Fan (Lincoln Lab), indicating a spectrum-splitting scheme for achieving a high-efficiency photovoltaic device.

From "Optimal design of high-efficiency tandem cells", J. C. C. Fan, B.-Y. Tsaur, and B. J. Palm, Proc. IEEE PVSC, 1982, p. 692.

It wasn't until the mid-2000's that the capable team led by Christiana Honsberg and Allen Barnett at the University of Delaware, together with other universities and private companies, finally realized the true potential of this design, creating a prototype device with a record-setting 42.8% efficiency.

With MIT's PV research ramping up once again, and research funding following, I hope that several game-changing inventions in PV can be both conceived - and built - at MIT within the near to medium future.

For a current list of groups involved in some aspect of PV research at MIT, check out:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

We Are The People We Have Been Waiting For

I just finished reading Friedman's new post on

To paraphrase, he describes feeling energized and hopeful after interacting with students from the MIT Energy Club, affirming that "these are [some of] the people we have been waiting for" to help us solve our climate and energy crises.

I fullheartedly agree with TF, that we have a most special budding Energy community at MIT catalyzed in no small part by student organizations such as the MIT Energy Club. But imho what makes this community special is not so much its most respectful list of past accomplishments, but rather, its tireless efforts to pursue future ones by staying true to this mission statement: "The MIT Energy Club seeks to bring together and educate the MIT energy science, technology, policy, and business communities through initiatives focused on understanding the global energy challenge through fact-based analysis and education."

"We must live as we think, otherwise we shall end up by thinking as we have lived."
- Paul Bourget

Friday, November 23, 2007

"MIT Solar Community Social III" set for Dec 13, 6-8PM, Muddy Charles Pub....

The MIT Energy Club will be organizing its 3rd "MIT Solar Community Social" of the year on Thurs Dec 13, 6-8PM at the Muddy Charles Pub at MIT.

The last two socials(I and II) brought out an amazing diversity of MIT/Boston area solar technologists, entrepreneurs, and policy makers. The upcoming promises to be even better.

Solar activity in the MIT/Boston/New England sphere has been growing like crazy, with MIT recently receiving ~$2M in PV research grants from the DOE, MIT competing in the Solar Decathlon for the first time, and a number of interesting solar startups being created in the region over the last 1-2 years.

Come meet other people working in solar to chat and share ideas. Food will be provided courtesy of the MIT Energy Club.

MIT Professor Tonio Buonassisi and recent MIT PhD alum and MIT Energy Club founder David Danielson will co-host this event.

Contact David Danielson, dtdaniel, with any inquiries.

Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2007

MIT wins $1.8M in PV research grants from DOE Solar Energy Technologies Program....

More evidence recently of the nascent stages of the emergence of a PV research community to be reckoned with at MIT.

MIT recently won 2 large research grants from the Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies program totalling $1.8M. GREAT STUFF!! (If you're smart, you should be able to figure out who got them from the press release linked above.)

This was part of $21.7M distributed to 25 research projects in next generation PV by the DOE's Solar America Initiative. It is great to see Craig Cornelius, the new head of the DOE EERE Solar Energy Technologies program, implementing a much more dynamic funding strategy than we have seen in U.S. federal solar funding in the past! Craig had the chance to see all that MIT has to offer when he attended the MIT Energy Club's "MIT EnergyNight" last month.

Let's once again be sure to calibrate ourselves about what this means in terms of research output. For a project with a reasonable experimental/capital expenditure component, I would estimate that a PhD student costs ~$200K-$300K/year (~$100K just to have the student there - stipend/tuition/overhead + $100-$200K more for research costs).

So a rough estimate tells us that these grants will support 6-9 PhD student research-years or 3-4.5 PhD student research-years per project.

A great start to hopefully a lot more PV research funding coming into MIT!

Congratulations, Marcie Black and Bandgap Engineering!

Congratulations to Marcie Black and Bandgap Engineering, who received an "Outstanding Presentation Award" at the NREL Industry Growth Forum!

Read the full story here:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ausra/PG&E/FPL commit to 2GW of solar thermal...

Ausra, previously blogged on here, a CA bay area solar thermal power startup which has raised significant funds from Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, along with PG&E and Florida Power and Light (one of the nation's biggest wind developers) made a splash at the Clinton Global Initiative Meeting when they committed to building 2.0GW of solar thermal.

Using the MIT Energy Club's handy "U.S. Electricity Fact Sheet" one sees that the U.S. peak power capacity is ~1000 GW. One company consortium announcing solar thermal projects that would make up 0.2% of all electric power is nothing to sniff at.

Also, their commitment likely has some weight behind it: if they don't live up to it, Bill Clinton won't invite them back to his Meeting next year. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

MIT Photovoltaics Social II brings out the MIT PV crowd....

Last Thursday, the MIT Energy Club held its second "MIT/Boston Area Photovoltaics Community Social" of the year. This bimonthly social series is part of a coherent Energy Club program, which includes the social series and the Club's annual January IAP course on Photovoltaics, designed to build up the nascent PV community at MIT and in the Boston Area.

MIT Photovoltaics Social II turned out ~50 folks and was more internally/student focused than MIT Photovoltaics Social I. However, the MIT enthusiasm for PV is definitely on the rise.

MIT Prof. Tonio Buonassisi kicked off the event with a shot gun overview of his thoughts after having attended the EU Photovoltaics Conference recently. Interestingly, Prof. Buonassisi has just hired his first graduate student, the first critical piece of his up and coming PV research empire.... :)

The Sachs/Buonassisi MIT solar nexus was present in force, with Tonio Buonassisi and his first graduate student present. From the Sachs group long time PV researchers Jim Bredt (of Z Corp fame) and Jim Serdy were present, along with Eerik Hantsoo and the Sachs group's newest PV grad student Anjuli (whose last name I did not catch!). Jon Mapel, MIT PhD student, was present representing the great organic PV work going on in Prof. Marc Baldo's group as well.

Nol Browne, MIT Sloan alum currently with Evergreen Solar, headed the industry contingent, while Eric Emmons, Principal at everyone's favorite energy venture firm, the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, and David Pelly, MIT alum/EIR at Matrix Partners/co-instructor of MIT's newest energy ventures course entitled "Energy Ventures", represented the investor side with aplomb.

The MIT PV Social also welcomed alum and former Club Secretary Libby Wayman back from her long stint working in Lesotho, Africa to get developing world solar thermal startup Promethean Power off the ground.

Club co-presidents, Daniel Enderton and James Schwartz, were present to field many new ideas for the Energy Club, including the possibility of creating a "Biofuels" sub community similar to the PV one that has already been formed. This is a wide open opportunity for someone who wants to get more involved with the Club!

Representatives from Green Mountain Engineering, and stealthy Harvard tech based PV-related startup SiOnyx were also present.

Looking forward to the next social in November and hope to see everyone there!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

MIT Energy Club - Hidden Solar Resources

Over the years, the MIT Energy Club has accumulated a few great solar info resources. Please find a list below for your perusal:

MIT Energy Club IAP Course 2007: "Photovoltaics in 2012: What's Next in Photovoltaics Technology, Policy, and Economics" (Amazing overview slides primarily courtesy of MIT Prof. Tonio Buonassisi)

MIT Prof. Tonio Buonassisi's Solar Homepage (Excellent resource for people wanting to get into the field

MIT Energy Club Discussion 2007: "Solar: Thick vs Thin Film"
MIT Energy Club Discussion 2004: "Solar Power Overview"

MIT Energy Conference 2007: "Solar Power: A Path to Grid Parity"
- Slides
- Streaming Video

MIT Energy Conference 2006: "The Solar Panel: From a $10B Industry to a $100B Industry - How Will We Get There?"
- Slides & Streaming Video

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ausra, concentrating solar-thermal startup with new tech approach, raises $40M; Plans biggest plant in CA.... Cost: Solar Thermal vs PV??

Ausra, a new solar thermal startup backed by the illustrious venture firms Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, just announced the closing of a $40M+ financing round from these backers.

The company, originated in Australia and now in the Bay Area, has a novel technology approach that ideally will make parabolic trough concentrator solar thermal technology obsolete. The technology is essentially the same as traditional parabolic trough technology, with mirrors focusing incoming sunlight onto a linear pipe containing a high heat capacity fluid. The fluid is then pumped to a central boiler where the heat is used to make steam and run a steam turbine to provide electric power.

The novel part is that they have taken the "parabolic trough" part out and replaced it with compact linear fresnel reflector technology. Fresnel basically means that it achieves the same focusing onto a line as a parabolic trough, but using a flat reflector with features on it designed to mimic the focusing effect of a 3D trough reflector in 2D. See this pic for a feel.

The company claims it can deliver 10.4 cents/kWh electric power now and projects that it will be able to do 7.9 cents/kWh in three years. (Are these costs or long term contract sale prices? Somebody help me here.)

Interesting question:

Centralized solar thermal is being sold in many corners as a superior option to distributed photovoltaics, mainly in terms of cost.

However, in any given electric power market, photovoltaics, in that they deliver power on the retail side, should be given a cost "advantage" equal to the delivery (non-generation) costs of power. According to my latest NStar Electric bill, I was charged 10.8 cents/kWh for generation and 7.4 cents/kWh for delivery. So lets give PV an 8 cent/kWh advantage in discussions comparing it to solar thermal, at least in NE, for the sake of argument.

I typically hear PV levelized cost numbers of 20-50 cents/kWh, depending on the resource, interest rate, etc.

If we take Ausra at their word then, PV should be at or below 18 cents/kWh to compete with Ausra now and at or below 15 cents/kWh three years from now.

What are truly reasonable PV cost numbers these days? What are projections (given expected growth rates and learning curve behavior) 3 years, 5 years, 10 years out?

Solar thermal or PV. Weigh in!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Don't miss "MIT Photovoltaics Social II" this Thursday, Sept 13, 6-8PM, Muddy Charles Pub!

The MIT Energy Club is hosting the "MIT Photovoltaics Community Social II" this Thursday, Sept. 13, 6-8PM at the Muddy Charles Pub.

The event will be hosted by MIT Professor and PV researcher Tonio Buonassisi, MIT Energy Club founder Dave Danielson, and MIT Energy Club Lecture Series Chair and PV researcher Eerik Hantsoo (of both Nanosolar and Prof. Ely Sachs group fame).

The event will begin with a 10 minute overview of the recent European Union Photovoltaics Conference by Prof. Tonio Buonassisi so don't be late!

If the turnout this time is anything like MIT PV Social I, this will definitely be a great chance to meet other MIT/Boston area folks engaged in work in the photovoltaics world.

Furthermore, it appears that the MIT Energy Club's demo Evergreen Solar module has become a permanent fixture at the Muddy after last month's event. Who knows what PV prop will be added to the Muddy decor this time??

Free food and beverages sponsored by the MIT Energy Club.

Contact David Danielson, dtdaniel(att)mit(dott)edu with any questions!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

MIT at the European Photovoltaic Conference

The EU Photovoltaics Conference has become the de-facto key PV conference worldwide. To judge its impact, take a look at the number of press releases on these last few days. Analysts from BoA predicted a short-term boost in solar stocks resulting from the conference and its surrounding publicity - they appear to have been right. The media is simply abuzz here. I was even interviewed on TV today after my talk. ;o)

Speaking of talks, there were three talks with MIT folks at the EU-PVSEC. Although few in number, all were plenary talks with good audience turnout:
1) Highly Mismatched Semiconductor Alloys for High-Efficiency Solar Cells, with P. Becla as co-author,
2) Luminescence Imaging, with myself as co-author,
3) Stress Evolution of Wafer Bulks and Edges During Industrial Solar Cell Processing, with myself as lead author
It's a good start, but let's continue to build on that in the years to come...

Overall, the number of U.S. groups represented in oral presentations has increased quite a bit vis a vis previous EU conferences, including Ajeet Rohatgi's group (Georgia Tech), Bhushan Sopori (NREL), Alan Barnett and Christine Honsberg (U. Delaware), and Ron Sinton (Sinton Consulting), not to mention participation from multiple industrial partners. I remember back in 2004 in Paris, when I was one of only 3 people representing U.S. groups to present! I was also pleased to see the growing number of booths in the exhibition hall from New England companies who passed on previous EU Conferences.

Overall, though, we have still far to come in terms of creating a robust "PV technology pipeline" in the U.S., from where companies can pick their next-generation technologies from a steadily-replentished menu of new developments from universities and reseach institutes. Another area where we can hopefully contribute to positive developments. With technology-focused MIT, we should - and must - make a solid contribution in this regard.

For additional coverage of the EU-PVSEC, I recommend visiting:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

PV op-eds

Eicke Weber, director of Fraunhofer ISE, makes the case for a feed-in tariff in California in his new op-ed:

This follows on the heels of an article by Dan Kammen, promoting sustained, coordinated investment in PV R&D:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

National Solar Technology Roadmaps

If you have a stake in PV, you may wish to check out the drafts of the national (US) PV roadmaps:

These roadmaps are national roadmaps, although they are being coordinated by NREL (each of the project leaders is an NREL employee).

Fresh minds bring fresh ideas, so feel free to contact the project leaders listed by each research topic to contribute. I will surely be sending in my comments, and I encourage you to do the same.

As our beloved Dick Fenner loves to say, "lead, follow, or get out of the way"!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What is the proper incentive structure for PV in MA?

Dave raised some pretty interesting points in his comment to the previous post, as well as an interesting question: "what is the proper incentive for PV?" There are some pretty strong opinions out there on this subject, but before we jump into those, let's point out that Gov. Deval Patrick made it very clear, that he would like to see MA not only develop technology, but also build and apply it locally (i.e., capture a larger percentage of the entire knowledge-based economy value chain).

Now incentives: On one hand, the “Hermann Scheer fans” like the concept of a “market pull” feed-in tariff, and they tout the several distinct advantages: no need for pouring money into a "CEC module rating" structure, less bureaucracy for the consumer, greater transparency... On the other hand, you have others who favor tax breaks and buy-downs, which don't show up as line items on a utility bill. The debate has raged in CA for some time... and one may wonder if their legislation is more shaped by political realities than by socio-enviro-economic ones.

Looking at MA, you see features of these two different types of incentive mechanism: The incentives for a consumer to purchase a renewable energy system comes in the form of a tax credit and buy-down (flat tax credit of ~$1000 for medium sized systems, and up to $2.75/Wp buy-down incentive, depending on whether some of the main components are made in MA and if the purchase price of home is below a certain low level), and we do pay a line item in our electricity bill (~$6/yr) to fund renewable energy projects around the state (via the Renewable Energy Trust).

I can assure you that folks in high places in the MA state gov't are doing their homework right now, taking several factors (incl. our energy situation at the end of the natural gas pipeline, vision for socioeconomic growth, emissions targets, and historical political baggage) into consideration in order to draft an appropriate and results-producing incentive plan for our beloved MA. Stay tuned, or get involved.

Btw, this topic might make an interesting discussion session during the Energy Conference 3.0, or/and an Energy Club sponsored discussion session... we might even consider distilling and compiling the ideas and recommendations and reporting on them to the appropriate individuals...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Growth Potential for Solar in MA

As anyone here will readily tell you, the MA Bay Area is undoubtedly an awesome place to be right now in the sphere of cleantech. During the last couple months, I've been trying to put a finger on what exactly makes this place so special. Besides the high density of players in the New England energy community (Dave Danielson's point), an exciting piece of this puzzle is growth potential.

When one compares the distributions of population and solar energy companies throughout the U.S., one can't help but notice the high population density east of the Mississippi. The strong industrial, technology, and academic traditions of the Bos-Wash and Chi-Pitts corridors creates unique and favorable conditions for new entrants. Don't be surprised to see East Coast brands (e.g., IBM) as well as new entrants (spin-offs) joining in during the next months.
(this map is by no means complete!!)

Nocturnal view of U.S. from space, from GE Energy

Solar resource base of Germany and the U.S., compared on same scale. Source: SEIA