EERE SETO Postdoctoral Research Award 2018

The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Postdoctoral Research Awards are intended to be an avenue for significant energy efficiency and renewable energy innovation. The EERE Postdoctoral Research Awards are designed to engage early career postdoctoral recipients in research that will provide them opportunities to understand the mission and research the needs of EERE and make advances in research topics of importance to EERE programs. Research Awards will be provided to exceptional applicants interested in pursuing applied research to address topics listed by the EERE programs sponsoring the Research Awards.

Applicants may select one research proposal on one research topic. Proposals must be approved by the research mentor listed in the application. 

Solar Energy

S-501 Applying Data Science to Solar Soft Cost Reduction

Possible disciplines: Economics, computer science, business management

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 correlation of insolation forecasts with load use patterns, data scientists have opportunities to dramatically impact the future scaling of solar energy.

EERE's Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) 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:

  • Novel analysis of Green Button (smart meter) and PV performance data with the Durable Module Materials (DuraMAT) Consortium.
  • Power system planning and operation modeling to better understand the performance of solar generation assets on both the transmission and distribution grid.
  • Quantification of direct and total system cost and benefits of distributed energy generation and storage, especially as related to reliability and resiliency.
  • Data analytics for prediction of solar generation and PV system performance.
  • Computational methods for revealing insights about diffusion of solar technologies at the residential, commercial, and utility scales that integrate large administrative, geospatial, economic, and financial datasets.
  • Data tools for advancing photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) to reduce the non-hardware-related costs for solar energy. Specifically this could include work related to transactive energy value, such as analysis of the potential for PV and CSP to act autonomously in response to different grid and market signals and/or creating software that can perform these activities, as well as other novel topics not included here.
  • Studies of the impact of federal government funding of solar technologies and programs (e.g. connecting scientific articles, patents, and commercial press releases to understand how federal R&D dollars in clean energy are communicated to and understood by the marketplace).

S-502 Solar Systems Integration

Possible disciplines: Power systems engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, atmospheric sciences

The Systems Integration program of SETO aims to address the technical and operational challenges associated with connecting solar energy to the electricity grid. We seek postdoctoral research projects that will help address significant challenges in the following areas:

  • Power System Planning and Operation with High Penetrations of PV
    • Planning and operation models and software tools are essential to the safe, reliable and resilient operation of solar PV on the interconnected transmission and distribution grid, especially for understanding how power flows fluctuate due to clouds or other fast-changing conditions, as well as interacting with multiple inverter-based technologies.
  • PV Situational Awareness and Control/Coordination Strategies from Disturbances
    • Sensors and cybersecurity communication infrastructures and big data analytics enable visibility and situational awareness of solar resources for grid operators to better manage generation, transmission and distribution, and consumption of energy, especially in the face of man-made or natural threats.
  • Advanced Protection Distribution Grids with High Penetrations of PV
    • Higher solar PV penetration will require more advanced protection systems in distribution grids given that normal power flow (and fault current) are no longer unidirectional. Directional and distance relays may no longer operate as expected with inverter-based distributed energy resources.
  • Cybersecurity for PV Systems Integration
    • Cybersecurity for PV systems integration into utility operations, such as isolated layers of trust and mutual authentication. Advanced PV cybersecurity may be needed to ensure access control, authorization, authentication, confidentiality, integrity, and availability for the future smart grid.
  • PV Power Electronics
    • Power electronic devices, such as PV inverters and relevant materials, are critical links between solar panels and the electric grid, ensuring reliable and efficient power flows from solar generation.
  • Integrating Energy Storage with Solar, Including Microgrid Functionality
    • Integrating solar PV with energy storage would help to enable more flexible generation and grid and provide operators more control options to balance electricity generation and demand, while increasing resiliency. When combined with the capability to island from the area power grid, solar -- plus energy storage microgrids -- support facility resiliency. Resiliency is particularly needed for strengthening the security and resilience of the nation's critical infrastructure (e.g. for safety, public health and national security.)
  • Solar Generation Analysis and Prediction
    • The ability to better predict solar generation levels can help utilities and grid operators meet consumer demand for power and reliability.

S-503 Concentrating Solar Thermal for Electricity, Chemicals, and Fuels

Possible disciplines: Mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, materials science

Concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies use mirrors or other light collecting elements to concentrate and direct sunlight onto receivers.[1]  These receivers absorb the solar flux and convert it to heat. The heat energy may be stored until desired for dispatch to generate electricity, synthesize chemicals, desalinate water or produce fuels, among other applications. The dispatchable nature of solar thermal energy derives from the relative ease and cost-effectiveness of storing heat for later use, for example, when the sun does not shine or when customer demand increases or time value premiums warrant. Heat and/or extreme UV intensities from sunlight may also be used to synthesize chemicals or produce fuels. The ability to produce heat for chemical processes without the added cost of fuel and to shift electricity production to alternative energy forms can provide benefits. To realize these benefits operations must be efficient and cost-effective.

SETO seeks to develop processes that can occur at a competitive cost compared to traditional synthetic routes. Careful analysis of integrated solar thermochemical systems will be required due to the complexity of most chemical processes and the typically thin profit margins in commodity chemical markets.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Novel thermochemical materials or cycles for high volumetric energy density storage systems (with accessible thermal energy storage densities > 3000 MJ/m3 of storage media). Of particular interest are designs that are capable of cost-effective, simple, periodic recovery from performance degradation.
  • Novel concepts for using solar thermal sources to produce value-added chemicals, such as ammonia, methanol, dimethyl ether or other chemicals for which there is a sizeable market.
  • Innovative catalysts, materials, and reactor designs to enhance the thermochemical conversion processes.
  • Development of thermal transport systems and components. Generally, proposed innovations should support a 50% efficient power cycle (or other highly efficient end use), a 90% efficient receiver module, and multiple hours of thermal energy storage with 99% energetic efficiency and 95% exergetic efficiency, while minimizing parasitic losses. Novel concepts should also be compatible with 30 years of reliable operation at the targeted temperature conditions.

This is a broad call and postdoctoral applicants interested in using heat from solar installations to create value-added products at a national scale are encouraged to apply.

Stekli, J.; Irwin, L.; Pitchumani, R.  “Technical Challenges and Opportunities for Concentrating Solar Power With Thermal Energy Storage,” ASME Journal of Thermal Science Engineering and Applications; Vol. 5, No. 2; Article 021011; 2013;

S-504 Photovoltaic Materials, Devices, Modules, and Systems

Possible disciplines: Materials science and engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, applied physics, physics, chemistry

In photovoltaic hardware, substantial materials and system challenges remain in many current and near-commercial technologies.  Research projects are sought in applied and interdisciplinary science and engineering to improve the performance and reliability of photovoltaic materials, devices, modules, and systems in order to drive down energy costs.  Areas of interest include:

  • New module architectures, module components, and innovative cell designs that enable modules to produce more electricity at lower cost and improved reliability; modules that are compatible with higher system voltage and/or have improved shading tolerance especially in monolithically integrated thin-film modules.
  • Development or adaptation of new characterization techniques to evaluate defects and increase collection efficiency of absorber materials or interfaces. Projects should expand understanding of effective methods to control material quality in order to improve PV device efficiency and stability.
  • Scalable, high-speed measurement and characterization methods and tools for cells, modules, panels and systems.
  • Fundamental understanding of degradation mechanisms in PV devices, modules and systems. Development of models based on fundamental physics and material properties to predict PV device or module degradation and lifetime in order to enable shorter testing time and high-confidence performance prediction.
  • Cost-effective methods to recycle PV modules and related components that can be implemented into the current recycling infrastructure or module architectures designed for improved recyclability.
  • Stable, high-performance photovoltaic absorber materials and cell architectures to enable module efficiencies above 25% while reducing manufacturing costs.
  • Transparent electrodes and carrier selective contacts to enable low-cost cell and module architectures amenable to mass production.
  • Low-cost materials and high throughput, low cost processes for current collection and transport.