When people talk about photovoltaics (PV), it is often within the context of meeting the momentary energy requirements of humans.  However, there are other benefits that reach beyond the energy sector and the environment.

Consider:

  • The research performed to improve the optics for concentrating PV can be applied to improving the optics of LEDs, generating more efficient lighting solutions (search “non-imaging optics” for more info).
  • III-V nanopillars researched for PV applications [1] could eventually have success as LEDs [2], which would slow the consumption of scarce elements like indium – used in your laptop screen and/or smart phone.
  • Although PV developed out of established computing processes and sensor technologies, improvements in the modelling and understanding of PV can also be applied to those more established fields.  Applications in sensor technology include imaging for medical purposes, infrared imaging for security purposes, and the common digital camera.
  • The expected implementation of PV and other renewables on the grid, and the desire to convert renewable energy into locomotive energy is spurring research in other fields, such as battery storage [3].

The bottom line: Every step forward in PV leads to cross-disciplinary technological advances.

-Rachel Savidge

(MASc. in Engineering Physics 2nd year, McMaster University)

References:

[1] http://nano.eecs.berkeley.edu/publications/NanoEnergy_2011_NPL-PV.pdf

[2] “The fabrication of GaN-based nanopillar light-emitting diodes”, J. Appl. Phys. 108, 074302 , 2010

[3] http://www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/energystorage/about.html