DOE Forms National Center for Photovoltaics

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Kerry Masson, 303/275-4083
e:mail: Public Affairs

Golden, Colo., Nov. 19, 1996 -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced it is forming a National Center for Photovoltaics at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a move that enhances linkages between DOE-funded solar energy research programs conducted by NREL and Sandia National Laboratories and several state and federal agencies and universities across the nation.

The Center will be the focal point for technology development and information about photovoltaics in the United States.

"The formation of a National Center for Photovoltaics is an effective and efficient way to use the resources and capabilities of the national laboratories and universities for the benefit of the U.S. photovoltaics industry and consumers," said Christine Ervin, DOE's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. "The move will enhance communication, catalyze strategic partnerships and give those involved in the photovoltaics industry a place to come to access the wealth of knowledge and facilities within the DOE system."

The Center will be located at NREL, DOE's primary laboratory for research and development of renewable energy technologies. The goal of the Center is to link staff expertise and state-of-the-art research facilities at NREL and Sandia National Laboratories -- which also conducts a significant portion of DOE's solar energy research -- with solar programs at Brookhaven National Laboratory and university centers of excellence in Delaware, Georgia, Florida and New Mexico. The alliance also will include the Utility Photovoltaic Group, a government/industry partnership to increase the use of photovoltaics by utilities.

The Center's objectives are to partner with the U.S. photovoltaics industry to achieve the cost and performance goals to make photovoltaics competitive on a global scale; serve as the point of contact for PV information, education and outreach; provide strategic guidance, direction and coordination to assure the best use of our national laboratories and university research capabilities; and facilitate strategic partnerships with domestic and international stakeholders to overcome market and institutional barriers. The Center will have primary responsibility for implementing DOE's National Photovoltaics Program by conducting research, development and testing in partnership with the U.S. photovoltaic industry.

For industry that means one-stop shopping for access to world-class research and testing facilities for investigating research ideas and testing prototype and commercial products.

"Our ultimate goal is to give the consumer a clean, reliable and inexpensive source of energy," Ervin said. "In the past 20 years, research and development have advanced photovoltaics from a costly space technology to an affordable worldwide energy technology firmly planted on the ground. This Center should accelerate our work to make photovoltaics a viable energy option in the United States."

Today the cost of solar modules is less than $4 per watt -- down from $500 per watt in 1972 -- thanks to technology advances in materials development, fabrication techniques and improvements in manufacturing processes. Such advances pushed by basic research and development have resulted in the largest growth ever in worldwide sales in 1995 with the U.S. photovoltaics industry increasing its module shipments by 35%.

1997 is expected to be a year of "firsts" for photovoltaics research. Several promising thin-film technologies are emerging from prototype production into first-time manufacturing. Industry will unveil the first scaled-up manufacturing facilities for amorphous silicon and cadmium telluride photovoltaic modules, and manufacturing of silicon sheet and concentrator modules will begin. U.S. companies also are expected to introduce new photovoltaic products such as AC modules, photovoltaic roof tiles and other components that will open a new era of commercialization.