As fossil fuels diminish and the world becomes increasingly reliant on the generation of electrical power, photovoltaic devices will become key to our future, helping to power our transport and urban infrastructure.
It is likely that by the year 2030 almost the whole of Europe will have achieved grid parity for solar photovoltaic power generation and so will be cost effective in providing a significant secure and carbon free contribution to the emerging grid structure. Photovoltaic systems are flexible in their configuration, being equally well suited to large scale power plant construction or to integration into the built infrastructure for example as solar roofs.
The overwhelming scientific challenge for this technology sector is to learn how to manufacture cells which are both more efficient in converting solar energy, whilst less expensive to produce. Delivering this requires us to solve fundamental materials physics issues with existing technologies. Work on solar energy at the University therefore brings together engineers, physicists, materials scientists and chemists to study new materials and novel device configurations as well as to drive forward radical improvements in existing technologies.
Research groupings from across a number of schools are also examining the way in which solar technology is best integrated into the grid and what the true value of solar technology is – both in economic and carbon terms.
Computer models are helping the National Grid to address the safety and transmission problems created by the rise in domestic solar generation.
Cheap, efficient solar cells
Researchers in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering are analysing the structure of cheap silicon to boost the efficiency of solar panels.