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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 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 up to three research topics. Research proposal must be specific for the research topics; therefore, a different research proposal must be submitted for each research topic selected. Proposals must be approved by the research mentor listed in the application for each research topic. However, applicants may only submit one research proposal per research topic.

SOLAR ENERGY

S-501 Applying Behavioral Insights to Solar Soft Cost Reduction

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

In 2016, more than 50 cents of every dollar spent on residential solar went to soft costs - the aggregated costs for customer acquisition, system installation, commissioning, and interconnection to the grid. Soft cost reduction is distinct from hardware innovation because it deals directly with people and processes - such as strategies for identification, simplification, replication and scaling of best practices for solar deployment and grid integration for local government officials, and the basis for decision makers at state energy offices and regulatory bodies. Reduction of soft costs can result from the application of insights derived from social and behavioral science to refine the ways that solar energy systems are bought, sold, designed, valued 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;
  • Study of decision making patterns in large organizations related to energy use and investment (e.g. electric utility investment decisions or corporate energy investment strategies);
  • Analysis of energy consumption patterns (e.g. using Green Button smart meter 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-502 Applying Data Science to Solar Cost Reduction

Possible Disciplines: Behavioral 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 correlation of insolation forecasts with load use patterns, data scientists have opportunities to dramatically impact the future scaling 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) and PV performance data with the Durable Module Materials (DuraMat) Consortium;
  • Modeling to determine the impact of distributed solar assets on the performance of the grid (in terms of both reliability as well as infrastructure cost avoidance);
  • Quantification of direct and external cost and benefits of distributed energy generation and storage;
  • Numerical prediction methods for fully optimizing electrical grid operations and planning such as solar insolation forecasting as well as PV system performance;
  • Data tools for advancing photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies in the context of soft cost reduction.

S-503 Solar Systems Integration

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

The Systems Integration (SI) program of the SunShot Initiative aims to enable high penetrations of solar energy onto the electricity grid by addressing the associated technical and regulatory challenges. In order to enable 100’s of GW of solar to be interconnected on the nation’s electricity grid, we seek postdoctoral research projects that will help us address significant challenges in the following thrust areas:

Solar Forecasting

  • Solar forecasting can help utilities and grid operators better predict solar generation levels and make it easier to meet consumer electricity demand for power and reliability. 

Power System Planning and Operation

  • Planning and operation models and software tools are essential to the safe and reliable operation of the interconnected transmission and distribution grid with diverse generation sources, especially in the case of solar with time of day and locational value considerations.

Power Electronics

  • Power electronic devices, such as PV inverters, are critical links between solar panels and the electric grid, ensuring reliable and efficient power flows from solar generation. 

Integrating Energy Storage with Solar 

  • Energy storage is a key enabler to a flexible grid and provides operators more control options to balance electricity generation and demand, while increasing resiliency.

Sensors, Communications, and Data Analytics

  • Sensors and cybersecurity communication infrastructures and big data analytics enable visibility and situational awareness for grid operators and customers to better manage generation, transmission and distribution, and consumption of energy. 

Techno-Economic Solar Integration Studies

  • Rigorous and comprehensive integration studies inform diverse stakeholder groups about the technical feasibility, major barriers, and solutions for large-scale solar deployment across local, regional and the national level.

 

S-504 Concentrating Solar Power Materials and Systems

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 receivers1.   These receivers absorb the solar flux and convert it to heat. The heat energy may then be used to generate electricity, synthesize chemicals, or produce fuels, among other things.  By virtue of converting the sun’s energy to heat, CSP may be readily utilized with multiple sources of generation.  The complementary nature 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.  It is envisioned that such processes may occur at a competitive cost compared to traditional synthetic routes.  Careful analysis to determine if a chemical plant would benefit from part or full operation on solar thermal input will be required because, while solar thermal power plants of 100’s of MW scale exist today, there is insufficient information on large-scale use of solar thermal in the production of chemical products.  If the process were technically feasible would it be economically viable?  This question is especially important given the very thin margins in commodity markets.
Electricity Generation.
The ability to produce heat for chemical processes without the added cost of fuel and to shift electricity production to times of peak demand could, in theory, provide benefits.  To realize these benefits operations must be efficient and cost effective.
Along these lines topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
  • Novel concepts for using solar thermal heat to produce value-added chemicals, such as ammonia, or any other chemical for which there is a sizeable market.
  • The sulfur thermochemical cycle – i.e. solar thermal activation of sulfuric acid, or another oxidized sulfur compound, to generate easily-stored elemental sulfur. Of particular interest would be innovative catalysts, materials, and reactor designs to enhance the reaction rate of the desired SO3 → SO2 conversion process. 
  • Novel thermochemical materials or cycles for high volumetric energy density storage systems (> 3000 MJ/m3), including self-healing systems, or other design strategies capable of cost effective, simple, periodic regeneration.
  • The development of Pickering emulsions to increase the stability and volumetric energy density of sensible and latent TES material systems, including the use of such materials to reduce the corrosive nature of molten chloride heat transfer fluids.
  • High-temperature (≥ 650°C), low-cost (≤ $15/kWhth) thermal storage for production of power, chemicals, or fuels.
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.
 
  1Stekli, 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; http://dx.doi.org/10.1115/1.4024143
 
S-505 Photovoltaic Materials, Devices, and Modules

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 commercial and near-commercial technologies.  Research projects are sought in applied and interdisciplinary science and engineering to improve performance and drive down costs of photovoltaic materials, devices, modules, and systems. Areas of interest include:

  • New module architectures, module components, and innovative cell designs that enable higher module efficiency, lower cost, improved reliability, increased integrated energy output throughout the day, modules compatible with higher system voltage, and improved shading tolerance especially in monolithically integrated thin-film modules.
  • Development or adaptation of new characterization techniques to evaluate defect types, levels and densities in 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, low-cost 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 with material-based input parameters and stress conditions, 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% with reduced capital expense appropriate for low-cost manufacturing.
  • Transparent electrodes and carrier selective contacts to enable low-cost production worthy cell and module architectures.
  • Low-cost materials and high throughput, low-capital processes for cell metallization.