R&D, Solar Panels And Feed-In Tariffs

George Monbiot’s latest guardian article acquired me interested by the character of analysis and improvement in the photovoltaic industry and the way R&D has been impacted by feed-in tariffs in Europe.

Having labored in photovoltaic analysis both in a college laboratory and industry I have some experience of R&D. The field of photovoltaics certainly falls into the class of utilized analysis, that means that the ultimate purpose isn’t solely to achieve new knowledge, but to carry new merchandise onto the market that enhance the world around us. To achieve this however, there’s a long journey that have to be undertaken – getting a brand new technology onto the market is a multi-stage process.

Of course every new thought is totally different, and no new technology undergoes the identical journey (whatever people say, there isn’t any clear line between the terms ‘analysis’ and ‘improvement’). There are some options nonetheless, which might be common in expertise commercialization processes:

In the beginning is painstaking elementary research in a laboratory. This may not even involve making a prototype however for example might simply include measuring an effect in some new material. Many, many concepts are proposed, tried and rejected for every idea that makes it past the first step. That is probably the most artistic a part of the method, which is why it attracts so many brilliant minds, however essentially the most that can be achieved right here in real terms, is a few suggestion that a idea has a chance in the outside world.

From the initial conception of a new expertise, extensive tests have to be carried out within the lab to point out feasibility of the idea. Once all the assessments that can be performed in a laboratory have been completed, it’s time for the analysis to outwards and beyond, and into the development stage. The problem is to take the small-scale prototype closer and nearer to what may be thought-about an actual product utilizing a real manufacturing process. In the photovoltaic cells, these made in the laboratory are often tiny (smaller than a postage stamp) and fabricated using methods which can be completely unsuitable for giant-scale production.

Laboratory research nonetheless, is comparatively very low-cost compared to the later levels of development. The big hurdle for scientists is to search out the money to pay for the following step within the development journey.

While more money in basic analysis is at all times welcome, there are a number of defined funding bodies that scientists can apply to for laboratory research. UK universities have to this point been fairly profitable in attracting funding to increase analysis for renewable power analysis in current years. What is much much less clear however, is who can pay for the later levels of improvement when a expertise is ready to depart the lab, but nonetheless has someway to go before it is proven on a big scale. Typically there are quite a lot of large technical challenges to go from small to large-scale manufacturing, and one can by no means ensure that it will be viable at all till you try. With new kinds of solar cells, typically this growth happens in several levels, with multiple, progressively larger manufacturing lines being built. It can get VERY expensive.

This gradual scaling up of a laboratory process is not usually paid for by authorities sponsored R&D programs – building a manufacturing plant is seen as a business exercise. Scientists are due to this fact compelled to go to the personal sector and do battle with enterprise capitalists and the prefer to get the mandatory funding. Because of this, many promising technologies never make it out of universities at all.

The painful truth is that the scale-up course of is completely critical to getting a expertise onto the market. With out this step you may as nicely not have bothered inventing the know-how in the first place. I do know from experience that there are hundreds of extremely exciting new sorts of solar cells sitting ready in laboratories across the world. The bottleneck is and at all times has been elevating finance for the expensive scale-up process.

In the last few years however, since 2004-5, there has in reality been a outstanding inflow of enterprise capital money in photo voltaic energy. Certainly not all, but many photo voltaic companies have managed to lift cash to take their technologies from the lab to manufacturing. Venture capitalists (particularly from Silicon Valley) and corporations internationally have poured billions into the arms of photo voltaic cell scientists to take their expertise on to the subsequent step.

What brought about this sudden surge in investment in photo voltaic vitality? Definitely it wasn’t a shortage of revolutionary ideas for photo voltaic cells – the ideas that were given financing have been around because the 1970s. My perception is that it was a direct results of the German feed-in tariff that was implemented in its current kind in 2004, shortly before the funding frenzy began.

Almost in a single day, Germany became the single largest photo voltaic energy market in the world, and has remained so ever since. In 2009, over 60% of all the world’s solar panels had been installed in Germany. The feed-in tariff ensures a marketplace for solar power merchandise and this is exactly what investors are on the lookout for to reduce the risk of a brand new technology. There will all the time be technical threat, however the feed-in tariff means that at the very least if a new expertise does work, traders can be positive there might be someone to buy it.

Many of these internationally funded new photo voltaic panel companies decided to build their first manufacturing traces in Germany. Examples of such corporations are First Photo voltaic, Nanosolar, Avancis, Q-Cells, Sunfilm, Signet Photo voltaic, ErSol, Johanna Solar… I may go on. Each of those corporations has raised tons of of hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct factories that produce new kinds of solar panels. Even the companies not positioned in Germany have all open their first sales office there.

In fact not all these companies will probably be successful, in fact Sunfilm not too long ago announced it would go into administration, however that’s the nature of growing technologies. The method of designing and inventing a brand new factory, and then using it to make good dependable photo voltaic panels takes such a long time. Regardless of this, First Solar has simply entered the S&P500 with billions in annual income, and several other others are in their footsteps. There is risk, but with out trying you don`t have a chance. The prize is great for those who succeed, and infrequently the experience an experience gained in failure is not without value.

My opinion is that the feed-in tariff is nice for encouraging investment within the scale-up stage of R&D, which may be very poorly funded within the UK. Laboratory analysis will proceed, and governments mustn’t reduce spending on universities. Nevertheless, if a government needs this early stage research to ultimately make an impression on the financial system, they must discover a solution to assist enlargement stage R&D, and introducing a feed-in tariff is excellent method to do this. For more information on solar panels click here, we are providing some great information on solar panels , if u want to dig more about solar panels visit on the link.

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This post was written by assistant on September 29, 2010

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