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6 New Thrusts or New High-Impact Projects PHOTOVOLTAICS The exploration and use of solar energy have risen and sunk with oil prices. Energy sources used in generating electricity in the United States roughly comprise 49 percent coal, 21 percent natural gas and other gases, 19 percent nuclear energy, less than 2 percent petroleum, 7 percent hydroelectric power, and less than 3 percent other renewable sources. Oil constitutes a minuscule share of the U.S. electricity generation, and its price should not deter renewable energy deployment. As part of the future electrical energy portfolio, photovoltaics stands on its intrinsic merit of providing direct conversion from sun power to electricity. Photovoltaic electricity is the story of the power play of atoms, photons, and the free path of electrons. As to solar energy, no country can capture another country’s photons. When the technology can offer cost parity with the grid, or closer to it, photovoltaic solar energy will become an essential part of mainstream electricity in everyone’s life. The winning technology is the one that can deliver the desired economics. Going forward, as manufacturing capacity continues to increase and production techniques continue to improve, the expanded scale and enhanced manufacturability will drive the cost of photovoltaics down. Technologically, the global efforts on increasing the cell efficiency are ever more rigorous and vigorous. The scale effect, coupled with the anticipated technological advancements, will move solar-cell-generated electricity toward grid parity. Tying the NIST effort with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) needs that will support the goals of the Smart Grid Initiative is another important effort. Photovoltaics is a growing industry and highly relevant to the national priorities of alternate energy sources and green energy technology. A photovoltaics project is warranted. BIOELECTRONICS The Semiconductor Electronics Division has proposed bioelectronics as a possible new focus area for furthering its innovation and metrology within the EEEL. The recent advances in biotechnology have generated much exciting potential for targeted and preventive medicine. However, understanding of the underlying mechanisms in human health and complex diseases has barely begun. There is a lack of predictive and diagnostic biomarkers for complex diseases. This prompts the need for ultrasensitive, cost-effective, high-throughput tools, which can derive from the sophisticated metrology established in the semiconductor industry. The convergence of biology and electronics is at an early but critical juncture, with a great deal of isolated work going on within academia, small entrepreneurial companies, and federal laboratories. It is appropriate that 33
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the Semiconductor Electronics Division take a leadership role, not only within NIST, but in concert with academic and industrial partners to propel the field forward. With the highly multidisciplinary nature of research and development in bioelectronics, the EEEL should approach this initiative with project-minded leadership, drawing on human and materiel resources across divisional lines in a matrix-like structure. Bioelectronics is an important new thrust area deserving support. GRAPHENE-BASED QUANTUM CONDUCTANCE STANDARDS The project involving graphene-based quantum conductance standards is viewed as a potential new thrust in the Quantum Electrical Metrology Division. At present, the resistance standard is based in the integer quantum Hall effect in devices fabricated from gallium arsenide/aluminum gallium arsenide (GaAs/AlGaAs) heterostructures. It is quite difficult to produce GaAs-based devices that are suitable for resistance metrology, and today there are no reliable sources of the material needed to produce them. (Very high mobility GaAs is routinely available, but for technical reasons it is unsuitable for resistance metrology.) In addition, the integer quantum Hall effect in GaAs devices reaches metrological accuracy only at sub-kelvin temperatures (typically 0.3 K), making measurements of such devices quite demanding. Quantum Hall devices based on graphene instead of GaAs may provide a solution to both of these issues if their mechanical and electrical stability prove acceptable. Energy-level spacings in graphene are roughly 100 times or more than in GaAs, potentially allowing operation at up to room temperature. In addition, graphene-based devices are potentially much simpler to fabricate and optimize than are GaAs-based devices. The development of a simple-to-produce quantum Hall standard capable of room-temperature operation could revolutionize resistance metrology as the development of the Josephson voltage standard revolutionized voltage metrology. SMART GRID SYSTEM INITIATIVE The Smart Grid program is being implemented in NIST, and the effort of deliberating and structuring an integrated, collaborative process across the divisions based on the respective expertise is essential to the program’s timely progress. Countries around the globe are launching concerted activities in addressing energy independence and climate and environmental issues. As the world’s energy needs continue to increase, the energy generation, distribution, and consumption must resort to a more sustainable model by embracing all energy sources and delivering higher efficiency and lower cost. The Smart Grid system holds high promise of revolutionizing how electricity is generated, distributed, consumed, and conserved by automatically monitoring and controlling two-way energy flow. It also can enable the use of renewable and alternative energy more effectively, efficiently, and intelligently, thus potentially transforming today’s economy. The ultimate goals of smart grids are to enhance the power grid’s reliability, efficiency, and safety through real-time communication; to provide flexibility of power 34
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consumption; to enable decentralized power generation; and to increase the nation’s economic growth by integrating renewable energy sources and creating green jobs. By using real-time information from embedded sensors and automated controls, power outages, power-quality problems, and service disruptions can be mitigated. The ability to anticipate, detect, and respond to system problems and to isolate affected areas and redirect power flows around damaged facilities makes a self-healing loop. The optimized power flow reduces waste and maximizes the use of lowest-cost generation resources. Through seamlessly interconnecting renewable energy sources and other distributed generation technologies at local and regional levels, the energy efficiency is maximized. The decentralized power generation provided by smart grids also can increase fault tolerance. Technologies in communications, sensing, measurement metering, and digital infrastructures are key elements of smart grids. Also, innovations in superconductivity, fault tolerance, storage, power electronics, and diagnostics components constitute its foundation. On top of many other facets of the Smart Grid system, the system’s security is of the ultimate importance. To secure the nation’s critical electrical power infrastructure, smart encryption is a necessity. This should be taken into consideration at the outset of the program. In the Smart Grid arena, NIST can play a leading role in developing and deploying the multi-front technologies and national standards. 35