NREL's Sarah Kurtz Wins Prestigious Cherry Award from IEEE
June 7, 2012
A physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory
(NREL) who helped launch super-efficient multi-junction solar cells and who is a leader
in photovoltaic (PV) systems reliability has been awarded the prestigious Cherry Award
by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Sarah Kurtz, a principal scientist and group manager at NREL, received the award at
the IEEE’s annual Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Austin, Texas, this week.
Kurtz and NREL colleague Jerry Olson championed the early use of multi-junction solar
cells by showing that a top cell of gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) and a bottom
cell of gallium arsenide (GaAs) can capture and convert photons more efficiently into
electricity than previous attempts at using other materials.
They showed that the multi-junction concentrator cells not only use a fraction of
the precious electronic materials used by the thicker flat plate cells, but that they
can capture more light through the course of a day. Olson won the Cherry Award in
2011. (View video of Kurtz and Olson speaking of their breakthroughs. http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2007/502)
Their breakthrough was embraced by NASA, which uses multi-junction solar cells based
on this invention to power most space satellites, as well as the Mars rovers, Spirit
Kurtz’s work helped illuminate how to grow high-quality cells, how to measure multi-junction
cells, and how their performance is affected under various spectra. More recently,
she has looked at reliability issues of integrating multi-junction cells and solar
PV in general into larger systems.
“The question on the street — how to predict the lifetime of modules — comes in different
flavors,” Kurtz said during a break in the Austin conference. “They come from people
who are determining the warranties, customers who want to choose the most durable
product, the investor trying to justify the investment of a billion dollars, and the
insurance companies wanting to know how to set rates. Service predictions, by site
around the world, looking 20 or 30 years out, are quite challenging experiments to
“To win the Cherry Award is a deep honor,” Kurtz said. “A lot of people who are very
deserving have been nominated, so I feel very honored.”
Kurtz also conducted groundbreaking work on dilute nitrides and on measuring the individual
junctions of a series of connected solar cells. At the award ceremony, presenters
said, “She has proven to the world high efficiency PV can be done.”
Last year, she helped form the International PV Quality Assurance Task Force to develop
comparative test standards for PV modules. She is recognized worldwide as an expert
on Concentrating PV technology and has received numerous awards both as an individual
and as part of a team.
“Sarah’s contributions to solar science and technology research can’t be overstated,”
NREL’s Director, Dr. Dan Arvizu said. “NREL is proud to have two consecutive winners
of the Cherry Award, and four altogether, forone of the most important awards in the
photovoltaic field. Sarah’s impact on solar energy has been profound, and it’s wonderful
to see her recognized.”
The Cherry Award is named in honor of William R. Cherry, a founder of the photovoltaic
community. In the 1950s, he was instrumental in establishing solar cells as the ideal
power source for space satellites and for recognizing, advocating, and nurturing the
use of photovoltaic systems for terrestrial applications. The William R. Cherry award
was instituted in 1980, shortly after his death. The purpose of the award is to recognize
individual engineers or scientists who devoted a part of their professional life to
the advancement of the science and technology of photovoltaic energy conversion.
NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable
energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by
The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.