Solar Energy for the Masses

in Uncategorized
October 31st, 2012

By Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)

Dr. Supratik Guha, director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, spoke at Boston University in October.

Dr. Supratik Guha, director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, spoke at Boston University in October.

As the need for renewable energy sources grows, solar energy has become a popular area of research. However, developing solar cell technology that can be used by the masses continues to be a challenge because of high prices and great performance demands.

“There are still some breakthroughs needed to bring down the cost and make the design more scalable,” said Dr. Supratik Guha, director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

Guha, whose research centers around new semiconductors and oxides for logic and energy analytics, visited Boston University on October 3 as part of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series. As part of his talk, he spoke about the challenges of designing better equipment to collect solar cells.
by Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)
“The demand for solar energy isn’t growing as quickly as we would like in the US because the demand for new utility systems isn’t as high,” said Guha.

As part of his research, Guha is exploring one of the ways solar energy can be harnessed by studying photovoltaics, a method of creating electric power by turning solar radiation into electricity using semiconductors.

Globally, solar photovoltaics is the third most popular renewable energy source behind wind and water power, but until cheaper materials are used to design solar cell equipment, the technology is not likely to pass fossil fuels as a top source of energy.

Enter Guha whose research team is looking at fabricating solar cells with copper-zinc-tin-sulfide (CZTS). According to Guha, the material is non-toxic and has the potential to have higher efficiency rates.

“We want to get away from fancy and expensive techniques,” he said.

The initial results show room for improvement since voltages were poor, but Guha said that his team will make advancements.

He believes that the ultimate goal, set forth by the Department of Energy, is to design a module that costs less than 50 cents a unit with the rest of system costing no more than $1 per watt.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but new material discovery is still needed in order to make solar cells a widely used energy source,” said Guha.

Guha’s talk was the first in the two-part Fall 2012 Distinguished Lecture Series. The next talk features Professor Keren Bergman, Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. She will speak on the topic, “Scalable Computing Systems With Optically Enabled Data Movement.” Hear her on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, at 4 p.m. in PHO 211.