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).


We’re all going on a solar holiday….

By Simon Hunter

Our scientists are pretty passionate about their work. So much so that they don’t just take their work home with them – they take it on holiday.

Organic printed solar cell floating in the water.

Scientist Scott Watkins recently took this holiday snap of an organic printed solar cell floating in Callala Bay on the NSW south coast. He thought the cell deserved a treat after helping secure funding for a new, $87 million Australia-US partnership in solar cell research. The funding will be used to establish the US-Australia Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (IAP). This centre will work on solar cells – those that convert sunlight directly into electricity.

The solar cell partnership is a parallel program to the solar thermal research partnership that we reported on back in December.

For CSIRO, our involvement in the IAP represents a great chance to continue our work on manufacturing thin-film solar cells while working alongside new colleagues with deep expertise in existing, silicon-based solar cells. Who knows where this research will take us next.

You can read more about our organic solar cell work on our website and keep up to date with all of our Flexible Electronics news on twitter @FlexElectronixx


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).


Back to (solar) school

Some lucky students in Canberra won’t just be hitting the books when they head back to school next week – they will also become junior CSIRO scientists, helping us with our solar research.

Solar research stations have been set up in four Canberra schools to help CSIRO study the output of photovoltaic (PV) panels. The data will help us to predict the behaviour of PV panels in urban areas and could help future power supply planning.

The school’s PV panels are connected to a website where the data can be monitored in real-time.

More schools will join the research program this year!

It’s real-time learning! Have a look for yourself at: weru.csiro.au or watch the short ABC News video below showing the research in action.

A screen grab of the WERU website data.

An example of the data from the rooftop installation.


Why you can’t compare apples and oranges

In today’s Newcastle Herald newspaper our blogger Dr Greg Wilson appeared in an article about our cool next generation solar cells made from dyes. We’ve previously shown you how they are made. Greg’s also holding one in the picture below.

We are developing dye-sensitised solar cells (DSC) that can be integrated into the walls, windows and roof top materials of buildings. They need to cover a much larger area to generate the same amount of electricity as the common silicon photovoltaic panel. We can make our DSC pretty colours; one day bill boards and signs might also be made of them (how cool!).

CSIRO EnCntr 202_Greg Wilson_dye cells landscape2

Solar@CSIRO blogger, Greg Wilson holding a dye-sensitised solar cell at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle. In the background you can see an entire wall made up of the cells. This installation was the largest of its kind back in 2003 when the Centre was built, and we have certainly learned a lot since then!

If you read the Newcastle Herald article and want to know a bit more, read on.

From Greg: “…it is not as easy as comparing apples with apples. Like all products, silicon solar cells come in a variety of models – these may range from low cost, compact, 5 Watt (W) modules all the way through to higher cost, high performance, modules in the 200+W range.

The product we are developing is for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) where one type of ‘product’ may be a type of solar glass window with a target of 80W output from the window under Standard Temperature Conditions (STC) of 25C.  On a hot day, the surface temperature of a PV module can be much higher than the air temperature, perhaps up to 60C.  The output of an 80W silicon module would drop from 80W to 69W as the temperature increased while a DSC module output could increase to 88W for the same temperature change under ideal conditions

The silicon PV modules have a negative temperature coefficient whereas organic solar cells like dye-sensitised solar cells or organic PV experience positive temperature coefficients.   Of course other factors such as price, availability and module lifetime also have to be considered in making the final technical selection.

Greg has also chatted about the topic on our CSIRO facebook page. Why not become a fan and join the conversation?


100 facts about Solar at CSIRO: Part 4

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. Today we talk about solar cooling research, our on-site generation from solar power, and the raw material itself: sunlight.

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Solar cooling

  1. CSIRO solar cooling technology can provide air conditioning, heating and hot water to a building – all from the low-temperature energy gathered by conventional solar hot water panels.
  2. CSIRO’s two-room ‘balanced ambient calorimeter’can replicate the weather conditions of different locations all around the world. This lets us test how conventional or solar air conditioners would perform in cities or countries with different patterns of temperature and humidity.

    An experiment you can walk inside: our two-room balanced ambient calorimeter

  3. The balanced ambient calorimeter can test solar air conditioners ‘on sun’ (using real solar heat), and can even replicate the effects of different building materials (like insulation) and different heat sources (like people or computers).
  4. CSIRO’s commercial-scale solar cooling technology has been installed at the Hamilton TAFE. It provides space cooling, space heating and hot water for teaching-kitchens, the campus function room, and office spaces.

Solar on site

  1. There are over 100 kW of solar photovoltaic panels generating electricity for the Newcastle site. Three different varieties are represented: monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon and dye-sensitised cells.
  2. The dye sensitised array on our building was the first commercial installation of DSCs in the world.

    Stained glass window: our dye sensitised cell array from the outside (left) and inside (right).

  3. The sun helps us reduce our use of air conditioning. The stairwells in our office building act like ‘solar chimneys’ that draw a natural flow of fresh, cool air in from the central gardens and through the building.
  4. The sun helps us save on lighting costs. White boards outside the windows called ‘light shelves’ reflect diffuse light into the office, allowing the fluorescent lights to dim and save power.
  5. Our on-site generation, which includes our solar panels, saves us a lot of CO2 emissions every year – but we save five times as much as that again due to our energy-efficient building features. It just goes to show that prevention really is better than cure.

Insolation

  1. In the 12 months to date, each square meter on our site has received about 5.8 gigajoules of solar energy. That’s equal to the amount of energy released by burning a barrel of oil. Over our whole Newcastle site, that adds up to about 45,000 barrels of oil equivalent.
  2. The best sites in Australia can receive over 9 gigajoules of solar energy per square metre each year. That’s about one and a half times what we get in Newcastle – which in turn is about one and a half times as much sunlight as the best solar locations in Germany.
  3. The sun doesn’t simply rise in the east and set in the west. At our Newcastle site in summer the sun rises 29 degrees south of east.

    Not really a robot playing golf.

  4. We measure how much solar energy we get using a device that looks like a golf-playing robot.
  5. How do you know just how sunny your part of Australia is? CSIRO’s Marine and Atmospheric Research division is working on it. They’re collaborating with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and NREL in the US to make Australia’s first comprehensive solar radiation data set.

100th blog post

The CSIRO Solar blog has made it to 100 posts, and we’ve celebrated it by doing what we do best: harvesting power from the sun.

Photovoltaics research scientist Greg Wilson fabricated this dye sensitised solar cell in CSIRO’s Newcastle lab and I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty great way to commemorate our achievement and show off the technology at the same time.

Click through the pictures below for more details of the fabrication process.

We plan to show you this process in more detail in future posts of the blog.

We’ll also be posting ‘100 facts about solar at CSIRO’ over these next few weeks, so keep an eye out for them.