Photovoltaic Applications

At NREL, we see potential for photovoltaics (PV) everywhere. As we pursue advanced materials and next-generation technologies, we are enabling PV across a range of applications and locations.

Solar Farms

Many acres of PV panels can provide utility-scale power—from tens of megawatts to more than a gigawatt of electricity. These large systems, using fixed or sun-tracking panels, feed power into municipal or regional grids.

Remote Locations

It is not always cost-effective, convenient, or even possible to extend power lines to locations where electricity is needed. PV can be the solution—for rural homes, villages in developing nations, lighthouses,  offshore oil platforms, desalination plants, and remote health clinics.

Stand-Alone Power

In urban or remote areas, PV can power stand-alone devices, tools, and meters. PV can meet the need for electricity for parking meters, temporary traffic signs, emergency phones, radio transmitters, water irrigation pumps, stream-flow gauges, remote guard posts, lighting for roadways, and more.

Power in Space

From the beginning, PV has been a primary power source for Earth-orbiting satellites. High-efficiency PV has supplied power for ventures such as the International Space Station and surface rovers on the Moon and Mars, and its applications in space will continue to grow.

Building-Related Needs

In buildings, PV panels mounted on roofs or ground can supply electricity. PV material can also be integrated into a building’s structure as windows, roof tiles, or cladding to serve a dual purpose. In addition, awnings and parking structures can be covered with PV to provide shading and power.

Military Uses

Lightweight, flexible thin-film PV can serve applications in which portability or ruggedness are critical. Soldiers can carry lightweight PV for charging electronic equipment in the field or at remote bases.


PV can provide auxiliary power for vehicles such as cars and boats. Automobile sunroofs can include PV for onboard power needs or trickle-charging batteries. Lightweight PV can also conform to the shape of airplane wings to help power high-altitude aircraft. 


We work across a range of materials and processes, including Si, CdTe, CIGS, perovskites, III-V, and multijunction solar cells; organic materials; novel epitaxy and liftoff; reliability; PV material recycling; product lifetime; flexible-glass and polymer substrates; packaging; characterization; testing; and qualification.


We have partnered with more than 200 private-sector companies and government agencies to develop new technologies for custom needs and applications, including:

  • State-of-the art technology development – for utility and residential applications
  • Dynamic hydride vapor-phase epitaxy – to drastically lower the cost of high-efficiency III-Vs
  • Perovskite R&D – for greater efficiency, durability, and scalability
  • Lattice-matched sodium chloride – to improve III-V growth and allow substrate reuse
  • Lift-off processes – to create lightweight PV
  • CdTe solar cells on flexible glass – for automobile and window uses
  • Building-integrated PV – for aesthetics, power, and efficiency
  • Ultralight, flexible, portable modules – for aircraft and defense applications.

We have multiple paths for partnering, including licensing NREL intellectual property, testing and characterization, performing techno-economic analysis, and generating new technology solutions through cooperative R&D agreements.

Contact us for information and to discuss how we can help you with your needs.


For technical questions, contact:

Nancy Haegel

Director of the National Center for Photovoltaics

For partnering questions, contact:

Steve Gorin

Partnership and Business Development