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Meeting the challenges of providing clean energy: Commission looks into clean alternatives to fossil fuels


Photovoltaics is a science that examines light-electricity conversion. Conversion of solar energy carried by photons is transformed by solar cells into direct-current electrical energy. Interest in the use of photovoltaic (PV) solar technologies is growing rapidly, as it will permit the direct production of electricity from solar radiation without any harmful emissions or noise. Rising energy costs, the finite nature of fossil fuels and worries about climate change has renewed interest in making the benefits of PV technology more affordable and readily available.

The European Commission, through the Renewable Energies Unit of DG JRC’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability, is the scientific co-ordinator of a Thematic Network “Photovoltaic Network for the Development of a Roadmap for PV (PVNET). This network brings together representatives of relevant research and development (R&D) and production areas in photovoltaics. Their main task is to stimulate communication within the whole PV community by organising expert meetings, workshops and symposia, and disseminating the information gathered therein. The Workshop on European RTD Strategies for Photovoltaics, held on 30 & 31 May, in Ispra, Italy, was such a gathering. This Thematic Network is being carried out in the framework of the specific research and technological development programme "Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development" within the 5th Framework Programme funded by the European Commission. The project started in December 2001 and will last for two years.

PVNET aims to foster collaboration among European industry and the scientific community and to draw a Roadmap for European PV research and development (R&D). This will lead to an increase of both competitiveness and vitality in the European PV industry, through the formation of a comprehensive strategy for research, marketing, products, human resources and development by formulating a viable strategy for directing the future of European RTD in photovoltaics. The world market for PV has grown rapidly over the past several years, at about 25 % annually. It has grown even higher (38%) in the last five years. The average market growth of PV is compared to the growth of the microelectronics market in its early stage of development. It reflects very strong growth in virtually all PV markets such as telecommunications, remote power, utilities and agriculture as well as in building integrated grid-connected. The workshop organised at the Ispra site had the following aims:

? Identification of new short-, mid- and long-term projects.
? Identification of areas where industrial standards and harmonisation are needed.
? Identification of major technology gaps in Europe in view of anticipated future products and selection of optimum solutions for each application.
? Addressing environmental issues that could slow down the implementation of PV.
? Description of the specific European strengths in technology and education and enhancement of the European competitiveness in the field.

The workshop was one of a series of meetings and workshops which also included the Cross-Fertilisation Workshop for Photovoltaics, held on 28-29 May, also in Ispra, and focused on the identification of non PV technologies which helped give input into European photovoltaic research and strengthen the PV industry, and the identification of common research issues among the different PV technologies. The conclusions of such PVNET gatherings will result in a consensus paper based on the visions of the European PV-community indicating the main issues for future photovoltaic research and development.

Catherine Shiels | alfa
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