In the long run, the sun is our most important source of energy worldwide. Solar energy is almost inexhaustible and can be used everywhere. It is a renewable energy source that does not serve, as is currently the case, mainly for lighting and propulsion; it is increasingly used for the production of heat, fuels and other products. ECN part of TNO is working along various routes towards a future in which solar energy is dominant.
The annual installed new capacity of PV is growing enormously. Yet we are only at the beginning. In the Netherlands, sun and wind accounted for approximately 3% of national electricity consumption in 2017.
Costs of solar power falling further
Technologies developed by ECN part of TNO are applied worldwide. More than half of all solar panels are equipped with our technology, which focuses on producing solar cells efficiently and on an industrial scale with a good yield. The challenge now is to further reduce the costs of solar power, for example by boosting the efficiency of the solar cells while reducing production costs. The potential is enormous: we expect a factor of two for both. In addition, we are working on a higher energy yield and an extension of the service life.
Industrial applicable technologies
We focus on, among other things, the manufacturers of equipment and materials for solar cells and panels. What interests us mostly is industrially applicable technologies, not performance records in the laboratory. It cuts both ways: thanks to our technology and our knowledge of business needs, we are able to bring about innovations in business. From this work, we gain new knowledge about the technological challenges facing the industry.
Visually attractive integration
Whereas until recently we were mainly active in the development of concepts for solar cells and panels and their manufacture, we are now increasingly focusing on new applications. This mainly concerns integrating the generation of solar energy in the environment. In addition to technical solutions, aesthetics plays an important role here. Solar panels can be invisibly integrated into the facades of buildings, noise barriers along the road, dikes and roads.
Other promising places are inland waters, the sea and combinations between agriculture and solar farms. This may have economic appeal for the agricultural entrepreneur, while the panels do not disturb the view. In time, we want to be able to use solar cells in cars, trains and even aircraft. All with the highest possible efficiency and visually attractive.
Reliability and longevity
To improve reliability and longevity, we are going to extensively monitor and test solar energy systems in all kinds of conditions. Far too little is known about failure mechanisms. By finding out when and why solar panels or system components fail, we can enable companies to improve their products and offer investors better predictability of long-term energy returns. Within TNO we combine knowledge of solar energy with knowledge of materials, construction and big data.