Solar Research

For more than 40 years, NREL has led innovation in solar research, enabling the U.S. solar industry to grow rapidly as solar energy becomes more affordable and accessible than ever.

Research Challenges

A researcher looking through illuminated solar optics.

We work toward finding solutions for today’s solar R&D challenges, which include:

  • Integrating large amounts of solar energy into the power grid while maintaining security and reliability, and enhancing resilience
  • Improving the efficiency, lifetimes, and manufacturability of photovoltaic materials
  • Developing technologies for a third generation of concentrating solar power plants to further reduce costs and improve thermal storage capabilities
  • Capturing surplus solar energy to provide heat and produce fuels and clean water
  • Creating flexible, highly efficient solar cells that can make low-cost power available without wires anywhere the sun shines
  • Making solar an even better investment through work on bankability,
    reliability, and recyclability.

Research Areas

Solar research at NREL is multifaceted, incorporating basic energy science, engineering, and energy analysis.

A researcher holding a solar thin-film square.


Our photovoltaic (PV) research spans across fundamental and applied research and development, including theory and modeling, materials deposition, device design, engineering, and measurements and characterization. It focuses on boosting solar cell conversion efficiencies, lowering the cost of PV technologies, and improving the reliability of PV components and systems.

A researcher adjusting lab equipment.

Concentrating Solar Power

We play a critical role in the advancement of concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies through a wide range of scientific, engineering, and analytical expertise along with facilities and tools.  Our CSP research even goes beyond electricity generation, moving into emerging markets for long-duration thermal energy storage, process heat, solar fuels, and desalination.

Workers installing solar rooftop panels.

Solar Market Research and Analysis

Through rigorous data collection, analysis, and stakeholder engagement, NREL's solar market research and analysis efforts further solar technologies' role in supporting a more efficient and better performing U.S. electricity system. This crosscutting set of activities leverages NREL's unique analytical and deployment capabilities.

Two researchers looking at large computer monitors displaying charts and data.

Solar Grid and Systems Integration

Our research addresses the technical challenges associated with integrating solar electric technologies into a stable grid. Key areas include:

Energy-to-grid integration

Grid interconnection standards

PV reliability and system performance

Solar measurement and modeling.

A worker in a solar module manufacturing plant.

Solar Tech to Market

We connect NREL’s leading research, staff expertise, and facilities with private companies to support investigation, validation, and commercialization of solar technologies. By enabling early-stage solar technology and supporting the development of a skilled workforce, NREL strengthens the market and prepares solar for greater investment and commercialization. Whether supporting individual companies or leveraging American innovation and competitive spirit through the American-Made Solar Prize challenges, we help move technology to market and increasing U.S. manufacturing and competitiveness.