U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Energy Education & Workforce Development – EERE Postdoctoral Research Awards

Solar Energy Technologies Office

Photo of an array of bright blue solar panels.

In 2011, the Energy Department's Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) became the SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. SunShot drives research, manufacturing, and market solutions to make the abundant solar energy resources in the United States more affordable and accessible for Americans. The program works with private companies, universities, and national laboratories to achieve its central goal: to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Since SunShot's inception, the average price per kWh of a utility-scale PV project has dropped from about $0.21 to $0.14, placing the initiative well on its way to achieving its $0.06 per kWh goal by 2020.

Research Topics

SunShot is interested in funding research at domestic institutions and national laboratories. The program is also interested in supporting collaborative research at facilities outside the U.S. Applicants are strongly encouraged to pursue research opportunities at foreign research facilities (e.g., Europe, Australia and Japan).

 

S-401 Applying Behavioral Insights to Solar Soft Cost Reduction

Possible Disciplines: Behavorial Economics, Applied Economics, Computer Science, Social Science

In 2013, 64 cents of every dollar spent on residential solar went to soft costs - the aggregated costs for installing panels, commissioning them, and connecting them to the grid. Soft cost reduction is unique from hardware innovation because it deals directly with people and processes - like customer acquisition strategies, diffusion of best practices to local government officials, and relationships between decision makers at energy institutions such as solar installers and electric utilities. Soft cost progress benefits from applying results from social and behavioral science to refine the ways that solar energy systems are bought, sold, designed, and monitored.

SunShot is seeking to support postdoctoral researchers to apply and advance cutting-edge social and behavioral science to drive toward the national solar cost reduction goals.

 

Areas of interest include:
  • Design, implementation, and evaluation of randomized control trials in partnership with institutions piloting new solar policies and programs (such as electric utilities and municipal governments);

  • Using behavioral economics to understand consumer preferences and the effectiveness of messaging and framing related to solar adoption strategies;

  • Analysis of energy consumption patterns (using Green Button data) and energy efficiency upgrade decisions before and after solar adoption at residential- and commercial-scales; and

  • Human-interface design for solar monitoring devices.

S-402 Applying Data Science to Solar Cost Reduction

Possible Disciplines: Behavorial Economics, Applied Economics, Computer Science, Social Science

The emergence of new big data tools can revolutionize how solar technologies are researched, developed, demonstrated, and deployed. From computational chemistry and inverse material design to adoption, reliability, and insolation forecasting, data scientists have opportunities to dramatically impact the future of solar energy.

SunShot is seeking to support postdoctoral researchers to apply and advance cutting-edge data science to drive toward the national solar cost reduction goals.

 

Areas of interest include:
  • Computational methods for revealing insights about diffusion of solar technologies at the residential, commercial, and utility scales that ingest large administrative, geospatial, economic, and financial datasets;

  • Novel analysis of Green Button (smart meter) data;
  • Quantification of direct and external cost and benefits of distributed energy generation and storage;
  • Numerical prediction methods for electrical grid operations and planning such as solar insolation forecasting;
  • Data tools for advancing photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies.

S-403 PV Integration and Grid Management

 

Possible Disciplines: Power Systems Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science

The distributed PV, and the electric grid as a whole, has evolved over time from a strictly physical system that consisted of electrical and mechanical elements, to a cyber-physical system that is much more heavily dependent on data, information, simulation, and communications for operations. In order to understand the operations of this cyber-physical energy system, it is critical to understand the key attributes of the data, communication, and control infrastructures and evaluate the impacts of cyber parameters on the overall grid integration of PV.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Determining the data requirements for PV grid integration in terms of spatial and temporal granularity, data quality, data volume, and aggregation methods. Evaluating sensitivity of system operation to data quality and availability
  • Determining the communication requirements in term of bandwidth, latency, and robustness. Evaluating sensitivity of system operation to communication link quality and availability
  • Determining the requirements for energy storage and other flow control devices in term of ramp rate, response time, power and energy capacity, to name a few. Evaluating sensitivity of system operation to control parameters
  • Fast computational algorithms to enable modeling and simulation at a large scale and finer time resolution
  • Integration of PV forecasting and control functionalities into utility grid management systems (e.g. DMS, SCADA/EMS, power flow modeling)

S-404 Photovoltaic Systems and Grid Integration: Advanced Modeling, Visualization and Control of PV

Possible Disciplines: Power Systems Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science

Distributed PV systems must operate interactively with available solar resources, varying grid conditions, and other local resources, including load control, and storage resources. In the future, the distribution grid will need to be reinvented to interact with, and in some cases control, distributed generation and loads. There are several technical challenges to integrating high penetrations of solar at the distribution system. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Advanced Software tools to aggregate, visualize, analyze and control PV generation at the distribution feeder, substation and sub-transmission level in real-time
  • Advanced software and hardware tools/systems to synchronize and manage integrated PV resources at the distribution level
  • Real-time data acquisition in the distribution system for visibility, information, and predictive analysis
  • Advanced open source and enterprise tools to automate data exchange between PV and utility software systems and promote interoperability
  • Software and hardware systems innovation to expedite cost-effective deployment of PV generation on the distribution system

S-405 Concentrating Solar Power Materials and Systems

Possible Disciplines: Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technologies, such as parabolic trough, power tower, linear Fresnel, and dish engine systems and their associated thermal energy storage, are also targeted under the SunShot Program for significant system cost declines reduction on the order of greater than 50% through advanced technology development. Proposals addressing these and alternative CSP technologies will be considered based upon determined feasibility to achieve SunShot cost goals.

 

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Low-cost (≤75/m²) Solar field components and systems that maintain sufficient performance (lifetime ≥30 years) in terms of total optical error (≤3 mrad in calm winds, ≤4 mrad in windy conditions), wind loads (≥35 mph operational, ≥85 mph survival), and which minimize the time for total system installation and commissioning (≤9 months), and substantially reduce maintenance cost and water consumption (≤50% reduction) at a total installed cost ≤$75/m²
  • Polymeric or thin-glass reflectors with high-reflectivity (≥95% specular) and durability
  • High-performance selective coatings for reflectors (enhanced reflectivity, abrasion resistance, anti-soiling) or receivers (high absorptivity, low emissivity)
  • Novel non-imaging collectors
  • High-temperature (≥650°C), high-absorptivity (≥95%) solar receiver materials and designs capable of operation over many thermal cycles (≥10,000) and stable in air
  • Novel, high-temperature (≥800°C) heat transfer fluids
  • High-temperature (≥650°C), low-cost (≤15/kWhth) thermal or thermochemical storage materials and systems (≥95% exergetic efficiency) compatible with advanced fluids and cycles
  • High-efficiency power cycles (≥50% net thermal to electric)
  • High-temperature hardware (heat exchangers, pumps, valves, etc.) compatible with advanced power cycles and heat transfer fluids
  • Innovative, low-to-no water O&M techniques
  • Novel CSP components and systems.
  •  

    S-406 Photovoltaic Materials

    Possible Disciplines: Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Applied Physics, Physics, Chemistry

    In photovoltaic system hardware, serious materials challenges remain in many commercial and near commercial absorber technologies. Research projects are sought in applied science to improve performance and drive down costs of photovoltaic materials. Successful proposals will apply promising basic materials science that has been proven at the materials properties level to demonstrate improvements in photovoltaic technologies to address or exceed SunShot goals. Below are some questions and areas of interest regarding these desired advances:

    1. When PV modules reach end of life, what methods can be used to recycle modules and related components? What are the biggest challenges that need to be overcome for widespread module recycling?
    2. Fundamental understanding of mechanisms of degradation in PV devices. E.g. metastability in thin film cells, stability of >4J III-V devices as more lattice mismatch layers are introduced, fundamental understanding of potential induced degradation in high efficiency Si cells, etc. Research in developing physics based model for device degradation. Models which are able to predict device lifetime with material based input parameters and stress conditions. E.g. NBTI (negative bias temperature instability) can be predicted in microelectronic devices based on basic material parameters input into an activation-diffusion based model. Creep and fatigue failures of very complex turbine blades can be predicted based on material property and stress input. Is it possible to develop models based on fundamental physics and material properties to predict PV device degradation to enable shorter testing time and high confidence data?
    3. How can we reduce the gap between module and cell efficiencies? How can we reach single junction module efficiencies of 25% or multijunction module efficiencies of 40%?
    4. In both CdTe and CIGS, the large scale device efficiencies are significantly lower (~19% and 21% in laboratory champion for CdTe and CIGS, respectively) than the theoretical maximum (~29%). What are the reasons for limited efficiency improvements in the past decade and pathways to increase efficiency? Can high quality (low defect and high lifetime) absorber materials be deposited by manufacturable methods?
    5. What new multijunction solar cell architectures and designs would result in higher efficiency cells?
    6. Earth abundant PV materials (absorber, TCO, etc.) to enable TW level of deployment.
    7. How can innovative kerfless wafering/thin wafer/epitaxial growth techniques produce highly efficient crystalline silicon photovoltaics with extremely low manufacturing costs? Manufacturing science problems for differentiating and high efficiency technologies.
    8. What are pathways for high efficiency c-Si devices? What are suitable absorber materials for a tandem junction cell both in a flat plate and low concentration configuration?
    9. Other than a p-n junction, are there other ways that a useful amount of charge could be separated in a photovoltaic device? Effective methods of light trapping or device architectures exceeding theoretical limits of efficiency.


    •