Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP
Mr. McFadden welcomed participants on behalf of himself and Dr. Mary Good, the chair of the Committee, who was not able to attend. He said that the country had entered a time “of urgency and great opportunity” with respect to its energy usage. The urgency comes partly from the current steep economic downturn, he said, and the government’s efforts to reverse it, partly through quick and substantial spending. There is urgency in the energy sector as well, he said—not only that the country spends too much on energy, but that “we do it with inefficiency and high collateral costs.” This urgency also brings opportunity, he said, in “the willingness, indeed the necessity, of changing behavior in a crisis, and from the government’s commitment to change our energy future.” He cited President Obama’s decision to make energy, along with health care and education, a central priority in strengthening prosperity, competitiveness, and national security. This has been accompanied by a commitment of major government funding and the establishment of the ambitious goals of deriving 10 percent of energy in the United States from renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.
Photovoltaic (PV) technology, or solar-cell technology, can play a major part in addressing this urgency and opportunity, he said. To succeed, however, solar energy, like most other forms of energy, needs to be converted more efficiently to electricity. This is a goal of photovoltaic manufacturing. Manufacturing in general provides significant benefits to a nation, through high-value jobs, stimulation of
infrastructure, and research. Photovoltaic manufacturing has another promise, Mr. McFadden said: It can greatly enhance the energy output of solar energy.1
One analogy is the manufacturing of integrated circuits in the semiconductor industry. At their infancy, integrated circuits were too expensive for all but the most cost-insensitive applications, such as military rockets. But manufacturing improvements helped lower the cost of integrated circuits dramatically and persistently, bringing new capabilities, in accordance with “Moore’s law.”2 There are many differences between the photovoltaic and semiconductor industries, but the history of semiconductors may provide useful models, including the experience of semiconductor consortia.
At such a moment of opportunity, Mr. McFadden asked, can we change the nation’s energy usage by applying new resources of government and innovations of industry? For photovoltaic manufacturing, this will require improvements in process technology, such as the application of flexible electronics, new materials, and manufacturing tools. It will require new financial arrangements to provide incentives to the private sector. And it will require new ways of collaboration and interaction, new relationships between government and firms that go beyond those of standard government procurement.
Mr. McFadden said that the symposium would focus on the best forms of this cooperation between government and industry. “To do this in the very best tradition of the STEP board,” he said, “we plan to ask industry what is needed.” The first two panels would focus on industry’s experience, he said, and the third panel would look at current lessons and best practices, both from U.S. models. These would include SEMATECH and IMEC, the Interuniversity Microelectronics Consortium in Belgium. Panel IV would look at the economics of photovoltaics in the United States, and Panel V would examine the opportunities presented by flexible electronic materials to meet the needs of solar panel manufacturing and generation. Panel VI would be a roundtable discussion of “what had been learned and what we need to learn.”
He again thanked the Department of Energy for its support, especially John Lushetsky, who had had extensive experience in the solar industry and now led DoE efforts in energy efficiency.
1The photovoltaic effect was observed as early as 1890 by Henri Becquerel, and was the subject of scientific inquiry through the early twentieth century. In 1954, Bell Labs in the United States introduced the first solar PV device that produced a useable amount of electricity, and by 1958, solar cells were being used in a variety of small-scale scientific and commercial applications.
SOURCE: Solar Energy Industries Association.
2Moore’s law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, grew out of his observation that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit (like other electronic capacities) has roughly doubled every two years since the invention of the IC in 1958. In photovoltaics, no such “law” has been proposed, although the industry has consistently increased the electrical efficiency of solar cells and has reduced the cost per watt.