Back in the mid 1990s, the solar research lab at the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) in Kjeller, just outside Oslo, was a 10 square metre room. IFE was working on one project with Elkem. Over time, more companies came on board, such as REC, the largest integrated solar energy company in the world.
Since then, IFE’s solar cell research activity, and the lab with it, has grown tremendously. King Harald of Norway recently opened a new 1,500 square metre solar research facility in April. This will be the home of the IFE solar cell research group and an important part of the newly established Norwegian Research Centre for Solar Cell Technology. This centre was granted NOK 375 million in February by the Norwegian Research Council.
New Solar Cluster at Kjeller
The centre brings together the leading solar cell research community and the major solar cell companies in Norway in the country’s largest-ever joint effort in solar cell research. IFE will collaborate with three other research institutions, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, SINTEF, and the University of Oslo, and nine industry partners: Elkem Solar, Fesil Sunergy, Hydro, Norsun, Prediktor, REC, Scatec, Solar Cell Repower and Umoe Solar.
“It’s all the major photovoltaic companies in Norway,” says Erik Stensrud Marstein, manager of the Norwegian Centre for Solar Cell Technology. “This is the first time this is done at this scale.”
The centre will train 23 doctorates and 21 post doctorates and establish a national researcher school for solar cell technology. The partners will focus on four main research topics, including improving process technology for making silicon to get higher efficiency, lower energy consumption and lower costs of solar electricity, and adding layers of new thin film materials to silicon wafers to improve the light gathering and drastically increase the solar cell efficiency. The centre will also play an important role as a forum for establishing new projects for bringing new results towards commercial utilization.
“No company can do everything in-house,” says Marstein. “The centre is mainly a pre-competitive centre where the industry will benefit from new, fundamental knowledge and new tools and methods that can be included into their future development projects.”
The hope is that the centre will help maintain a leading position for Norway in the international solar cell market and pave the way for the industry to grow into one of the most important onshore industries nationally. There are currently more than 2,000 people working in this industry in Norway. If all goes well, this could potentially rise by ten fold within the next five to ten years.