An array of PV Professors

We’ve been working with two scientists at the top of the photovoltaics (PV) field – Professor Anders Hagfeldt and Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist.

Both scientists are from Sweden and have travelled to the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle to check out our facilities and work with our photovoltaics team…whilst also enjoying summer in the southern hemisphere.

Professor Anders Hagfeldt and Dr Greg Wilson standing near the titania dye solar array.

Professor Anders Hagfeldt, from Uppsala University, and Solar@CSIRO blogger, Greg Wilson, soaking up the atmosphere in front of the titania dye solar array (part of the CSIRO Energy Centre building).

Not only does he play some mean drums in a band called ‘Fat Cotton‘ but Professor Hegfeldt really knows his dye-sensitised solar cells. He’s one of the top 50 scientists in his field! (Watch our short video on the production of dye-sensitised solar cells).

Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist calibrating lab machinery.

Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist hard at work in the lab.

Professor Sten-Eric Lindquist, from Uppsala University, is working with us in our labs, giving us the benefit of his considerable experience in photovoltaics. Professor Lindquist has been examining the properties of semi-conducting photovoltaic materials.

In a neat twist Professor Lindquist was Professor Hagfeldt’s university supervisor (*cough* some 20 years ago).

A colourful (and illuminating) way of getting our work done

Our photovoltaics researchers at the Newcastle Energy Centre like to get right into the action when they’re in the lab.

Meet Kenrick Anderson, a photovoltaics experimental scientist. He gets to do fun science things – like monitoring how clean the lab is and filling out forms… no, I mean cool stuff like fabricating new solar cells and testing and comparing how they perform in the sunlight or indoors using a solar simulator.

Want to know more about ‘simulated sunlight’ and what we can do with it? Well, read on. Kenrick has given us his down-to-earth explanation of how one of our measurement tools – a monochromator – helps us understand how solar cells respond to sunlight.

Sunlight contains many different wavelengths of light – it’s a broad spectrum, polychromatic light source. Different types of solar cell respond to different parts of the solar spectrum. To compare these different cells we use monochromatic light – light of a single wavelength– as a means of seeing how a solar cell performs at a particular wavelength. For instance if we take just the light that we can see with our eyes, the wavelengths of visible light start at 400 nanometres and extend out to 720 nanometres.

Do you remember the spectrum by the following acronym?

 ROYGBIV         (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet)

Actually, this is in reverse order as red light stops at 720 nanometres and violet starts at 400 nanometres. In nature we see white light being split into the spectrum. Have you noticed the reflection of light as it bounces off water droplets which produces rainbows, or in the interference patterns of an oil slick on water? To reproduce these effects in the laboratory we use a monochromator, like the one pictured below:

Kenrick Anderson inspecting a monochromator.

Kenrick showing his lighter side (boom, boom!) in the lab, getting up close and personal with the spectral response systems. We make fine adjustments to the system by letting a wavelength of visible light through the grating and project it onto the sample under test so that we can ‘see’ it.

A monochromator works using a diffraction grating – a special surface with a series of very fine grooves (about 1000 parallel grooves every millimetre!). When light reflects off the surface the grooves cause the colours to separate out. If you turn a CD over you can see this effect for yourself: a rainbow-like spectrum of colours will be reflected off the disk – it’s a diffraction grating in real life using the even grooves of the CD. Similar surfaces are used within a monochromator to split the light. By changing the angle of the diffraction grating we can choose the wavelength coming from the monochromator. Fortunately, our system is computer controlled and all we need to do is type a number in and out comes the wavelength we are interested in. Job done!

Watch the short movie below showing the monochromator sweeping through the spectrum from 350 nm (in the UV part of the spectrum, just beyond violet) to 750 nm (in the infrared part of the spectrum, just beyond red).

Welcome to new ASTRI Director, Dr Manuel Blanco!

Today we announced the new Director for our $87 million Australian solar thermal research initiative (ASTRI): Dr Manuel Blanco.

A picture of Dr Manuel Blanco

Dr Manuel Blanco

Dr Blanco, a world-renowned solar scientist with almost three decades of academic, research and R&D managerial experience, comes to ASTRI from Spain’s National Renewable Energy Centre (CENER), where he was Director of the Solar Thermal Energy Department.

During his career, Dr Blanco has made invaluable contributions to the international solar thermal field – as well as compiling an incredibly impressive CV – and we are very excited to have him on board.

“Australia has one of the best solar resources in the world. It is a natural fit for an international solar thermal research collaboration to use this resource and our expertise to make solar power the cheapest, cleanest energy source it can be.

“We will reduce the cost of solar thermal to just 12 cents a kilowatt hour by 2020 and provide zero-emission energy to people when they need it. It’s a technological leap but we will do it. We are working with the best in the world,” said Dr Blanco. Read the full media release.

We have also updated our ASTRI web page so you can now check out the four major research areas and our partners, take a look:


Wes Stein interview in CSP Today

Wes Stein, manager of CSIRO’s Solar Energy Centre, was interviewed by CSP Today for an article about the new Australian solar thermal research initiative (ASTRI).

It’s a great read, we recommend a look: CSIRO embarks on cost cutting quest.

New CSP book co-edited by CSIRO’s Wes Stein

If you’re interested in increasing the depth of your knowledge about concentrating solar power (CSP) technology, we have the book for you.

Wes Stein, manager of CSIRO’s Solar Energy Centre,  and Keith Lovegrove of IT Power, are co-editors of the new Concentrating solar power technology: principles, developments and applications, recently released by Woodhead Publishing.

The chapters have been contributed by a range of experts from all over the world. They cover everything from the fundamental principles of CSP to details of different technological approaches, as well as describing current areas of research, improvement and application.

More information – including a detailed table of contents – is available at the publisher’s website.

100 facts about Solar at CSIRO: Part 5

To celebrate our 100th blog post, we’ve put together (in no particular order) a list of 100 things you may not know about solar research at CSIRO. In this final section: some blasts from the past, some sports and some reports, and at the end we get a bit meta.

◊  ◊  ◊


Members of the CSIRO Solar Thermal team pose with Prime Minister Gillard in front of Solar Field 2 during its opening ceremony.

  1. Within the solar team we have people with backgrounds in Chemistry, Physics, Geology, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering and Chemical Engineering. (There’s a bit of Paper Engineering, too.)
  2. CSIRO solar scientist Professor Andrew Holmes was awarded a Royal Medal this year for his contributions to technologies including organic solar cells.
  3. Research scientist Jacek Jasieniak has just returned from spending a year in the US as a Fullbright Fellow, where he worked with Nobel laureate Professor Alan Heeger on increasing the efficiency of organic photovoltaic cells. Dr Jasieniak is also a former ‘Fresh science’ winner and the subject of a news article titled ‘Aussie Scientists Have Created Printable Frickin’ Lasers’.
  4. Some of our solar team mentor school children in science and engineering through the Scientists in Schools program.
  5. One of CSIRO’s solar engineers is former world champion in a solar-powered sport.

VPS / grid

  1. Twenty locations in the Hunter Region, including residential houses and council sites with rooftop photovoltaics, were involved in CSIRO / LMCC’s Virtual Power Station trial project. Each participating household used a web interface to track their solar panel performance and to see the performance of the whole VPS network.
  2. A CSIRO report has shown that Australia’s energy supply can remain stable and reliable even if a large percentage comes from solar energy or other intermittent sources. The solar intermittency can be managed by increasing grid flexibility and considering options such as energy storage and load control (i.e. switching things on or off, or turning them down for a short time).


  1. Australia’s first reported domestic solar hot water heater was designed and made by CSIRO in 1941.
  2. CSIRO made many improvements to flat-plate solar hot water collectors in the 1980s. Researchers used a 14 kW solar simulator made of mercury-iodide lamps for testing purposes.
  3. A CSIRO / University of Wollongong / NCC pilot study recently discovered that many solar hot water system owners in Australia could ‘supercharge’ their systems by making a few easy changes.

    This photo is from a book called ‘CSIRO Research for Australia: 2 – Energy’, circa 1986

  4. CSIRO has had several projects investigating hydrogen production using solar energy, from the fashionable 80s (above) through to the present day.
  5. All of CSIRO’s solar research papers can be found in the online Research Publications Repository.
  6. The CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle has had many visitors including energy ministers or staffers from several different countries, documentary makers including the Discovery Channel and Dick Smith, and thousands of members of the public.

 The blog

  1. Solar@CSIRO was CSIRO’s first blog. Others have followed.
  2. The solar blog has been viewed from 110 countries (and counting).

    The solar blog has been viewed from 110 countries. Hey Greenlanders, come visit us – it’d make our day.

  3. Interesting search terms that have taken people to this blog include ‘solat power’ [sic], ‘photovoltaic cells fancy dress’, ‘solar power puns’, and the slightly surreal ‘how much does a hang glider cost’.
  4. Want to make sure you don’t miss out on the latest news about our energy research? You can subscribe to this blog to be emailed updates – or, for all our energy research, sign up to receive CSIRO’s energy research newsletter ‘Spark’. If you like your media more ‘multi’, you can also subscribe to CSIRO’s podcast and vodcast for general news and features.

SolarGas engineer wins national race… in a solar-powered sport

Self-portrait of CSIRO solar engineer Scott Barrett hang gliding over Neuschwanstein Castle on a previous trip in Germany.

It’s true that (nearly) all activities are powered by the sun. But hang gliding – powered by sun-driven thermals that pilots have to skilfully read and navigate – might be the sport most directly connected to the sun’s energy.

It’s appropriate, then, that it was CSIRO solar engineer Scott Barrett who took out top honours at the recent Dalby Big Air Hang Gliding competition in south Queensland. Scott, who’s a previous international hang gliding champion, won the 7-day event by navigating courses of over 100 km in the fastest overall times.

Scott says his flying has given him a good appreciation of the huge power of solar energy. ‘I travel hundreds of kilometers on solar power,’ he says. ‘To race the fastest I have developed a good judgement of surface albedo to know where to find the strongest thermals. At this recent competition I used thermals to climb at a rate of 1000 feet per minute.’

When he’s not cruising at up to 8000 feet, Scott works as an engineer on the SolarGas™ project here at CSIRO Energy Technology.

Congratulations Scott! You can read more about his win at ABC news or on his Newcastle Hang Gliding Club blog.

Scott launching his glider in the Hunter Valley near Newcastle. Photo by Stefan Salentinig.