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SRI International, under the Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS) program, is developing a new system for large-scale text analytics, called Helios, to isolate and map recurring patterns of technology evolution through the inspection of thousands of published technical documents. SRI, advised by the University of Toledo and GE Central Research, is identifying key breakthroughs in alternative PV technologies, and use Helios to identify common factors or conditions which inform the design of interventions to accelerate future innovation in photovoltaics.


Photovoltaic technology has seen steady improvements in performance and reductions in cost since the first solar cell was produced with four percent conversion efficiency in 1954. Scientists and engineers have made progress by identifying and overcoming fundamental materials barriers. The Energy Department makes targeted investments to spur evolutionary and revolutionary advancements for silicon, thin-film, and concentrating photovoltaic technologies. Recognizing the most promising research directions is challenging, time-consuming, and often subjective. Research suggests that subtle interactions between key participants in the technology space can influence the timing and impact of technical breakthroughs. This project is training a computer algorithm to analyze the contents of decades' worth of solar records to provide objective and theory-based models enabling past PV breakthroughs to inform future R&D investments and initiatives.


SRI is applying new computational approaches developed for the study of technology emergence to describe the evolution of solar energy technologies and identify technology development bottlenecks using large datasets of scientific publications, patents, funding records, and other relevant sources. SRI is conducting a series of data-driven case studies of solar technologies that describe the evolution of these technologies, identify bottlenecks encountered in the development of these technologies, and create typologies to understand fully those bottlenecks and develop approaches to surpassing them. Results will be vetted by an expert panel, and disseminated through the expert committee, publications, and presentations.


The ultimate goal of this project is to use the Helios tool to observe the path-dependent evolutionary trajectory of solar technologies, characterize those specific technical barriers encountered, and formulate optimal research strategies that accelerate the discovery of breakthroughs that overcome current barriers.