NREL Senior Scientist Steve Johnston Receives American Solar Energy Society Award

Johnston Is Recognized for Groundbreaking Characterization Work and Successful Collaborations

June 6, 2022 | By Susannah Shoemaker | Contact media relations

Steve Johnston
NREL Senior Scientist Steve Johnston

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Senior Scientist Steve Johnston has been selected as a recipient of the 2022 American Solar Energy Society (ASES) Hoyt Clarke Hottel Award. The award recognizes outstanding leadership and significant contributions to the commercialization of solar energy technologies.

"The most exciting part of receiving this award is that it shows that our collaborations with industry are important and impactful," said Johnston, who is a senior scientist on the Microscopy and Imaging Team at NREL. "We're doing the research work that companies and industry can't always take the time to do, and in the long run, we see momentum building, resulting in more durable and efficient PV modules."

The award recognizes Johnston's groundbreaking work in the development and commercial transfer of solar module characterization techniques.

"Over the years, we've worked with industry on developing characterization tools for solar cells and modules and then rolling out the techniques we've developed," Johnston said. "With one of our partners, Tau Science, our prototype imaging tools have grown into a commercial product that other companies can now buy."

These collaborations have resulted in new paradigms for characterizing modules in the field.

"Our partners can go to large utility-scale installations and characterize modules, looking for defects or damage from shipping as they're installing modules," Johnston said. "Later on, they can compare modules in the field with beginning images to look for degradation—including degradation patterns and weather-related damage."

Johnston's receipt of this award represents the culmination of over a decade of work at NREL. However, his interest in solar started well before he joined the laboratory.

"When I think back, even in grade school and middle school, I was interested in solar. That was always my interest," Johnston said. "Going to college, I need to know how solar cells work, so I studied semiconductor devices and engineering. And I think the biggest break was going to the Colorado School of Mines for my Ph.D. and getting a student project over here at NREL."

Although Johnston's interest in solar is lifelong, his enthusiasm for the field has not wavered in the slightest.

"There have been so many changes over the years—thinking back, solar wasn't even a number on the energy plot of where the U.S. gets it energy. And now there's a bit of yellow on that chart," he said. "It's definitely an exciting time to be working in this field."

Johnston has been invited to accept the award in person at the ASES Solar 2022 National Conference, to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, June 21–24.

"This will be my first in-person conference in two and a half years," Johnston said. "I'm very excited to go and accept the award in person."

"Steve has a stellar and sustained record of combining characterization techniques in a unique and innovative way and then engaging with industry to transfer technology and support the solar industry," said Nancy Haegel, center director for Materials Science at NREL. "We are thrilled for Steve and grateful to ASES for this recognition of his contributions."

Tags: Solar,Materials Science,Partnerships,Photovoltaics,Awards,Staff Profile