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The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2020 (SETO 2020) funding program supports projects that will improve the affordability, reliability, and value of solar technologies on the U.S. grid and tackle emerging challenges in the solar industry. This program funds projects that advance early-stage photovoltaic (PV), concentrating solar-thermal power, and systems integration technologies, and reduce the non-hardware costs associated with installing solar energy systems.

On February 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would provide $130 million in funding for 55-80 projects in this program. Eight of these projects will receive a total of $14 million to focus on PV hardware research.

Approach

PV hardware research projects will work toward achieving a 50% cost reduction by 2030 and improve hardware functions over the long term, maximizing energy yields, increasing efficiency, and improving PV system modeling to ensure reliable performance prediction. These are large research projects that bring multiple institutions together to work toward a specific goal. The research areas are:

  • Characterizing and Mitigating Performance Degrading Defects in Silicon PV
  • Characterizing and Mitigating Performance Degrading Defects in Cadmium Telluride
  • Correlation of Module‐Accelerated Performance Testing with Field Performance
  • Tandems Demonstrations at the String Level
  • Inverter and Module‐Level Electronics Reliability
  • Advanced Stable Perovskite Cell Architectures and Interfaces

Objectives

Projects in this funding program will bolster U.S. innovation and result in new technologies and solutions that work toward SETO’s goal of reducing the cost of solar electricity by 50% by 2030. These projects will work to reduce the levelized cost of energy, to achieve the DOE cost goal of $0.03/kWh for utility‐scale solar and enable even lower costs after that. This would make solar one of the most affordable sources of new electricity generation, help expand consumer choice, and increase options for energy resilience when coupled with energy storage.

Selectees

-- Award and cost share amounts are subject to change pending negotiations –

Arizona State University

Project Name: The Role of Hydrogen in the Performance and Long-Term Stability of High-Efficiency Silicon Cells and Modules
Location: Tempe, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Principal Investigator: Mariana Bertoni
Project Summary: Module reliability has typically been measured by EVA yellowing, corrosion, delamination and backsheet cracking. As the understanding of these issues improves along with the materials used, the small variations at the cell level will start dominating the overall response of the module. This project takes a closer look at the main drivers of degradation at the cell level, many of which stem from hydrogen incorporation into the structures. The project team is working to understand and model the effects of hydrogen in the different layers of the cell and at its critical interfaces by testing hydrogen under external stressors in order to propose a path that would extend the performance of these architectures for successful use as tandem subcells.

Clemson University

Project Name: Tool for Reliability Assessment of Critical Electronics in PV (TRACE-PV)
Location: N. Charleston, SC
DOE Award Amount: $1,600,000
Awardee Cost Share: $440,000
Principal Investigator: Zheyu Zhang
Project Summary: Field data from photovoltaic (PV) power plant operators shows that power electronics converters are responsible for between 43% and 70% of the service calls. This project is developing a Tool for Reliability Assessment of Critical Electronics in PV (TRACE-PV), which is capable of predicting the lifetime, understanding the physics-to-failure mechanisms that manifest, and assessing the levelized cost of energy. The team will validate and demonstrate the accuracy and broad applicability of the TRACE-PV tool through accelerated life testing, field reliability data, and case studies considering different PV techniques. If successful, this project will enable PV inverter developers to understand reliability bottlenecks so they can improve the next-generation designs and evaluate new techniques’ influence on inverter reliability.; Additionally, it will enable utility-scale PV operators to fairly quantify PV inverter reliability from different vendors, assess the remaining useful life of inverters under operation, and schedule maintenance in advance.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Project Name: Development of ~ 25% Efficient Double Side Screen Printed Poly-Si/SiOx Passivated Contact Solar Cells
Location: Atlanta, GA
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $380,000
Principal Investigator: Ajeet Rohatgi
Project Summary: Very few contact layers for silicon (Si) photovoltaic (PV) cells can achieve efficiency higher than 25% at a lower cost than Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC). One promising candidate to surpass PERC are Tunnel Oxide Passivated poly-Si SiOx contacts (TOPCon), but currently these contacts can only be used on the back side of Si PV cells rather than both sides. This is because the TOPCon layer absorbs some sunlight before it reaches the active PV material, which decreases the cell’s efficiency. It is also currently expensive to screen-print TOPCon layers on very thin poly-Si layers. Recently, the project team succeeded in making a double-sided screen-printed TOPCon Si PV cell with ≥ 22% efficiency. The team will use these methods to screen-print TOPCon layers on thin (≤ 20 nm) poly-Si layers. They will also improve the TOPCon layer itself by decreasing charge recombination and incorporating oxygen to expand its bandgap, which will reduce the amount of sunlight it absorbs. If successful, the team will produce a low-cost, commercial-ready ≥ 24.5% efficient Si PV cell with double-side screen-printed TOPCon layers.

University of Central Florida

Project Name: Developing PID Susceptibility Models for Bifacial PV Module Technologies
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Principal Investigator: Joseph Walters
Project Summary: Bifacial photovoltaics (PV) are predicted to account for more than a 50% share of the PV market by 2026. This project team is constructing a bifacial cell that is significantly different than the aluminum back surface field cells that have dominated the bifacial PV market in years past. These bifacial cells will be incorporated into bifacial modules as well as monofacial modules. The team will analyze how this novel cell construction is affected by high voltage conditions by measuring its performance and developing corresponding models to characterize any degradation caused by the high voltage.

University of Central Florida

Project Name: Gaining Fundamental Understanding of Critical Failure Modes and Degradation Mechanisms in Fielded Photovoltaic Modules via Multiscale Characterization
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $510,000
Principal Investigator: Kristopher Davis
Project Summary: This project applies multiscale characterization methods to field exposed photovoltaic (PV) modules to link observed performance degradation to specific loss mechanisms and, ultimately, to root causes. This research will be carried out on a very large and diverse population of modules to ensure statistical relevance. The team will perform multiple iterations of down-selection beginning with large-scale analysis of time-series, current-voltage data, followed by the application of both traditional and more novel on-site characterization methods. The analysis will be used to select modules for further characterization in a controlled lab setting, then to make assessments on the most likely root cause of the observed failure modes and degradation mechanisms. From those modules, individual regions of interest will be identified for targeted materials characterization to provide final confirmation of the root cause.

University of Delaware

Project Name: In-Situ Antimony Doped Polycrystalline CdTe Films for Simplified Cell Processing and Maximized Energy Yield
Location: Newark, DE
DOE Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Principal Investigator: Brian McCandless
Project Summary: This project is advancing cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cell open circuit voltage and reliability through antimony doped CdTe cells. The team will conduct theoretical defect calculations, defect analysis, and modeling to simplify cell fabrication and improve cell performance and reliability. The project results will reduce the levelized cost of electricity for solar energy by reducing module processing steps and increasing reliability over deployment time.

University of Maryland: College Park

Project Name: Integrated Approach to Ancillary PV Component Reliability Assessment
Location: College Park, MD
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $410,000
Principal Investigator: Patrick McCluskey
Project Summary: This project is developing an integrated approach to assessing the reliability of power electronic components in photovoltaic (PV) systems. The new approach is based on the development of physics-informed degradation models embedded in digital twins, or digital replicas of power electronic components, then validated with accelerated life testing and field data. The team will record the causes of abnormal behavior in the power electronic devices and the amount of time taken to reach failure, then calibrate and validate against accelerated life testing and field performance and reliability data collected on actual electronic components found in PV systems.

Univesity of Washington

Project Name: Forecasting Perovskite Photovoltaic Device Performance using Dark-Field Imaging and Machine Learning
Location: Seattle, WA
DOE Award Amount: $1,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $380,000
Principal Investigator: Hugh Hillhouse
Project Summary: Photovoltaic (PV) devices with combinations of low-cost, high power conversion efficiency, and low degradation rates are necessary in order to achieve a levelized cost of electricity of $0.03per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Hybrid perovskites (HPs) are expected to have sufficiently-low expected cost and sufficiently-high power conversion efficiency to achieve this goal, though long-term stability is a concern due to the existence of several degradation pathways. This project is developing accurate forecasting models for device performance lifetime of state-of-the-art all-perovskite tandem solar cells using machine learning models that will account for device-to-device variation. The forecasting model will predict the tandem power-conversion efficiency under standard operating conditions, which will be validated with new conformal prediction methods, along with comparison to in-the-field device monitoring. The forecasting models will also provide important data that will improve device architecture and encapsulation strategies to extend the performance lifetime.

Learn more about the SETO 2020 funding program and the project selections in the other topics.

Learn more about SETO’s other competitive awards.