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Cash bonanza for multi-junction solar cells

As the two inventors of the multi-junction solar cell are honored with a $1 million international prize, development of the technology in the US receives a massive boost from the Department of Energy's Solar America Initiative.

The development of multi-junction solar cells based on compound semiconductors has received a major financial boost.

Three projects involving the technology have been selected for funding via the US Department of Energy s (DOE s) $168 million Solar America Initiative (SAI), which is aiming to make solar energy cost-competitive in the country by 2015.

Raymond Orbach, the US Undersecretary of Energy, will announce details about the funding for concentrator solar power systems that use triple-junction cells at chip manufacturer Spectrolab today.

Spectrolab and its parent company Boeing are involved in the three projects, which have been awarded to teams of companies, universities and government laboratories. Boeing is heading a project entitled "High-efficiency concentrating photovoltaic power system", which is focused on cell fabrication research.

The Boeing project is set to receive $5.9 million through the SAI in its first year, rising to total funding of $13.3 million over the full three-year term if its goals are met. Those funds will be augmented by an equivalent contribution from the members of the project team.

Spectrolab, which recently set a new solar cell efficiency record of 40.7 percent using Veeco s MOCVD equipment, is also involved in a project headed up by Amonix. Amonix currently uses silicon-based cells in its concentrator systems.

The Amonix project will aim to develop a low-cost concentrator system based on multi-junction cells for utility applications. It receives $3.2 million in its first year, potentially rising to $14.8 million.

In a departure from the usual utility focus, Spectrolab will also be involved in a project focused on rooftop-style residential applications of multi-junction photovoltaic systems.

This project, which is led by concentrating solar panel maker Practical Instruments, and which also involves Emcore neighbor Sandia National Laboratories, is set for $2.2 million in the first year, rising to $4 million.

The DOE says that the SAI funding will enable a huge expansion in the annual US manufacturing capacity of photovoltaic systems, to 2.85 GW by 2010.

"Such capacity would also put the US on track to reduce the cost of electricity produced by photovoltaics from current levels of $0.18-$0.23/kWhr to $0.05-$0.10/kWhr by 2015," said the DOE. The target price would make the technology cost-competitive throughout the US.

• Two pioneers of the multi-junction solar cell - Sarah Kurtz and Jerry Olson from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory - have won a share of a $1 million international prize.

The scientists have been named as Dan David Prize Laureates for 2007, and received their award in Paris on March 8. This year, the prize was focused on the "quest for energy", and was shared with NASA climate specialist James Hansen.

"I am honoured to receive this prize, especially because it reflects the promise of the technology as a partial solution to the world s need for renewable energy," Kurtz said. "In the past few years, the investment in concentrator systems using high-efficiency, multi-junction solar cells has mushroomed."

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