Chris O’Brien is no starry-eyed idealist. An engineer with an MBA, he began his career developing fossil-fired power plants for the AES Corp. But in the 1990s his career took a different turn,...
Why thinking small can yield big returns.
the performance and cost challenges of utility-scale solar extend from increasing the sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiencies of solar modules to decreasing the area-related costs of fabricating solar modules.
Increasing the conversion efficiency of solar modules is centered around material science; using new materials and improving the quality of the materials used to construct the solar cells. For example, near-term nanotechnology developments are yielding films that provide enhanced light-trapping properties and films that can better convert a wider range of incident light wavelengths into electricity.
Fortnightly: What are the most interesting ‘blue sky’ technologies for utilities to watch? What nanotechnology advancements might change the game for solar energy in the next five years?
The next wave of energy technologies will stem from disruptive advances in materials science while their commercialization depends on rapidly moving from the laboratory to high-volume production. For example, advances in low cost Lithium battery technology can reduce storage costs from the current $2,000 to under $500 per kW installed, improving the practicality of electric vehicle. Similar advances in utility-scale energy storage can reduce costs from $1,000 per kW today to below $100 per kW installed. Such breakthroughs in energy storage would enable solar to supply base load electricity, creating additional demand for solar generating capacity.