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Major grant drives forward cost efficient solar power


Whether the search for alternative energy sources is driven by our concern about global fossil fuel supplies or over the atmospheric effects of burning of fossil fuels, the government has laid out its aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60% of 1990 levels by 2050, and aims to over- achieve its goal of sourcing 10% of energy from renewables by 2010.

In a significant step to achieve these targets, an enormous £4.5 million award has been made under the UK SuperGen programme to drive the search for cheaper solar power. The grant, made by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is the largest awarded under the SuperGen programme, which finances the sustainable power generation and supply initiative.

Renewable sources such as wind wave and solar power are already being used to produce a small percentage of UK energy needs, but if the government’s targets are to be met, the contribution needs to be more significant and the technology more cost-effective.

The technology used to derive electrical energy from the sun, photovoltaics, provides theoretically, the best solution, even in the UK, though current technology means that there are high ‘front-end’ costs to the technology, and consequently take-up has been low.

This new UK research into photovoltaics, or solar cell technology, has brought together 6 university and 7 industrial partners with the aim of finding novel ways for driving down costs and making solar power generation a cost-effective alternative.

“Renewable energy must grow and become more visible in the 21 century. To do this it must become cost effective. The aim of this research is to slash the costs of providing solar energy by half,” said Professor Stuart Irvine, of the University of Wales, Bangor’s School of Chemistry, who is managing the whole project.

“The high cost of solar cells is associated with the semiconductor materials that are needed to convert light into electricity. This project will look at ways of reducing the amount of expensive semiconductor material, such as silicon, while at the same time seeking ways to improve the conversion efficiency of light into electricity. This will have a double benefit where the cost of each solar panel will be reduced but will generate more renewable energy.”

Professor Stuart Irvine | alfa
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