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