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SunShot grant powers solar energy research

Nicholas Strandwitz has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, a national effort to support the use of solar electricity through cost reduction.

“SunShot aims to make solar energy a low-cost electricity source through research and development efforts using public and private partnerships,” explained Strandwitz. “Our Lehigh team is designing new interfaces for making inexpensive and efficient photovoltaics. We are fortunate to have been awarded funding.”

The SunShot initiative, which funds 48 projects in the amount of $46.2 million, is intended to develop innovative, early-stage solar power technologies with the intent of lowering costs and improving reliability and efficiency.

The program launched in 2011 with a goal to achieve cost parity with conventional electricity sources by 2020, namely $0.09 per kilowatt-hour for residential solar, $0.07 per kilowatt-hour for commercial solar, and $0.06 per kilowatt-hour for utility-scale solar. Five years into the program, progress was so successful that the initiative committed to a further goal to cut the cost of solar electricity an additional 50% between 2020 and 2030, to a respective $0.05, $0.04, and $0.03 per kWh.

Beyond these cost targets, SunShot is working to advance grid-integration approaches in order to enable two-way power flow, increase demand response, optimize electric vehicle charging, and address market barriers that limit solar adoption.

Strandwitz’s project, “Tunneling Back-Contacted Silicon Photovoltaics,” investigates the introduction of atomic layer deposited (ALD) tunnel barriers that simultaneously allow electron flow and passivate the silicon surface for silicon-based solar cells. The tunnel barrier is combined with metal oxide materials that selectively transport electrons or holes. ALD is employed for the fabrication of these thin film layers, a scalable technique capable of sub-nanometer control of film thickness, even on non-planar substrates. The work quantifies the electronic behavior of these contacts, which may comprise some of the most efficient electrical contacts to silicon photovoltaics to date.

DOE press release
DOE Photovoltaics Research and Development
DOE SunShot Initiative Goals

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