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Fraunhofer research: Laser fitness for solar cells

Just over 60 years ago, on March 26, 1949, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft was founded in the large conference hall of the Bavarian Ministry of the Economy. At the time, the idea was to develop new structures for research after the war’s destruction, and to spur reconstruction of the economy. Today, the globally-respected institute analyses current macro trends and identifies fields of research that will play a particularly important role in the future in meeting challenges such as climate change, dwindling resources and preventive healthcare. Solar/PV energy is firmly on the agenda. PES presents an exclusive Fraunhofer research paper.

Solar energy has a bright future. It is renewable, available in unlimited quantities and produces no environmentally hazardous gases. Its only drawback right now is the price. But thanks to new production technologies, even that may be about to change.

Cell phones, computers, MP3 players, kitchen stoves and irons all have one thing in common – the need for electricity. In the future we will also see increasing numbers of electric cars on our roads. If the most recent forecast by the World Energy Council is to be believed, global demand for electricity is set to double over the next 40 years. At the same time, the price of petroleum and natural gas is rising as both resources become increasingly scarce. Andreas Grohe of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg said: “Rising energy prices are making alternative energy sources increasingly cost-effective. Sometime in the coming years, renewable energy sources, which have traditionally been considered too expensive, will become more attractive. Solar energy, for example, which never used to be competitive, will soon account for a significant share of our energy supply – and will no longer need to be subsidised.”

The physicist anticipates that grid parity will be achieved in a few years, in other words, solar energy will cost the same and enjoy the same supply grid opportunities as conventionally-generated domestic power. Of course, this won’t happen of its own accord and Grohe is quick to recognise this fact.

“Solar energy must come down in price, he said. “To ensure it does, he is collaborating with researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen to develop technologies that will allow quicker, better and cheaper solar cell production in the future. “Lasers are fast accurate and contactless, which makes them an ideal tool for manufacturing fragile solar cells,” said Dr Arnold Gilner, Head of the Microtechnology


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