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:

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