- Two research projects targeting improvements in solar panels and integrated storage are showing promise, including a University of Texas effort to integrate a medium-voltage inverter into the generation system.
- The U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year awarded the University of Texas at Austin $3 million to support the development of a modular, multi-function, multiport and medium-voltage (M4) utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverter that would reduce the impact of solar's intermittence on the grid.
- In Germany, researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität (FAU) are looking at molecules for solar energy storage that could allow for controlled electro-chemical release and effectively integrate storage into the solar panel.
Researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are looking to improve the efficiency of solar panels, with a variety of projects aimed at integrating components, streamlining systems and reducing costs.
At the University of Texas, Alex Huang directs the Semiconductor Power Electronics Center in the Cockrell School of Engineering and is leading the DOE-funded project.
"Our solution to solar energy storage not only reduces capital costs, but it also reduces the operation cost through its multifunctional capabilities," he said in a statement last month. “These functionalities will ensure the power grids of tomorrow can host a higher percentage of solar energy. By greatly reducing the impact of the intermittence of solar energy on the grid and providing grid-governing support, the M4 Inverter provides the same resilience as any fossil-fuel-powered grid,” the statement continued.
According to the DOE project summary, the M4 Inverter "directly converts the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, eliminating the bulky and costly low-frequency transformer." DOE also said the inverter will feature a direct current port to interface with an additional energy storage device that can be used for reactive power support, fast frequency regulation and peak power reduction.
In Germany, researchers at FAU's Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy are working on two projects that explore "using molecules to store solar energy" in a way that would allow more efficient storage and controlled release.
"It is even conceivable that stored chemical energy could be converted directly into electrical energy. A vision which would make it possible to construct an ‘energy-storing solar cell,'" the school said in an explanation of the research. Among the goals is "developing new catalyst systems and electrodes which can be used to convert chemical energy directly into electrical energy."
The U.S. federal government has shown an interest in advanced solar and in April announced up to $105.5 million would be available to support new technologies. The agency's Solar Energy Technologies Office plans to fund about 70 projects, including both solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal power.