Solar technology

Research and development of devices to harness incident solar radiation for conversion to other energy vectors or for direct use. Including solar thermal, heating and cooling, and all photovoltaic (PV) technologies, this Research Area also encompasses relevant socio-economic and environmental issues (e.g. public acceptability of large-scale deployment of solar cells in the built environment) as part of design considerations. This area only includes research building on proof-of principle validated materials, for example optimisation of materials and devices, technology development, structural materials development and materials engineering. Research into fundamental new and novel materials for current and future energy technologies is not included in this area, which is covered by Materials for Energy Applications.

We will continue to support a breadth of Solar Technology research, a key energy generation technology which is, and will continue contributing to the cost effective and efficient decarbonisation of the energy system, not just in the UK but internationally:

  • There will be greater focus on thin films, flexible PV and the utilisation of new materials (which offer e.g. increased power conversion efficiencies, better stability, lower costs)
  • Transferable skills from other topics within the Research Area (e.g. crystalline silicon, dye-sensitised cells) will be promoted
  • Solar fuels, solar thermal and floating solar as emerging research areas will be promoted
  • Recognising the importance of systems integration, we will encourage the community to collaborate with groups and organisations outside this area (e.g. Materials for Energy Applications, Energy Storage and Whole Energy Systems communities), to identify and address joint energy challenges and to widen their knowledge and skill sets

The solar community has been particularly successful in building links with industry, where the delivery of joint projects has strengthened UK solar capabilities and provided a route for technology development at higher Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). We will continue to support and provide resources, where necessary, to help accelerate commercialisation of novel technologies into UK and international markets.

Significant advances in solar technology have arisen from underpinning materials sciences. This Research Area will work in conjunction with the Materials for Energy Applications area to continue supporting design and development of new and existing materials to push for greater power conversion for Solar Technology applications.

This Research Area is also recognised as potentially relevant to Official Development Assistance funding streams.

Highlights:

The need for Solar Technology research is reflected in a range of official documents (e.g. energy reports and roadmaps) that feed into future UK energy strategies. (Evidence source 1,2,3,4,5) Research in this area has potential to reduce the levelised cost of electricity to the consumer (LCOE), meet UK energy demands, and achieve environmental targets as part of a balanced, flexible, sustainable, cost-effective, renewable system.

Solar PV is already well-integrated into the energy system in some parts of the UK, (Evidence source 1,2,3,8) where the nature of the technology enables deployment in a variety of locations (e.g. domestic roofs, industrial properties, solar farms). As a result, consumers can generate their own power and continued support for research in this area will assist development of new device architectures with the potential to address current and future challenges, and will increase the efficiency of technologies for a range of applications. The most promising material of recent times, perovskites, offers a step change in power conversion efficiencies.

The Solar Technology research area is active in all aspects of the solar landscape and reflects a range of industrial activity, from materials sciences to manufacturing and process monitoring. The quality of UK research is reflected in a significant number of UK publications and patents from academic institutions and a number of university spinout companies (e.g. Oxford PV, Eight19 and Nanoco) (Evidence source 8).

The UK has an excellent profile in perovskites and organic PV, and pockets of particular strength in thin-film PV. EPSRC should continue building and strengthening international links and take steps to remain internationally competitive (in the face of competition from China and the US especially). The Energy Programme has previously engaged with India in solar projects as part of the Newton Programme.

This area has close links with the Whole Energy Systems, Energy Storage, Optoelectronic Devices & Circuits, Manufacturing Technologies, and Materials for Energy Applications Research Areas. Given the size of this area's portfolio relative to the energy landscape and EPSRC's portfolio overall, its potential contribution to meeting key UK carbon targets and its fostering of transferable skills within multiple disciplines, it should be maintained over the next Delivery Plan period.

This research area aligns particularly with Resilient and Productive Nation Outcomes and the following Ambitions within them:

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

Solar technologies can provide low-cost, low-carbon power and cut UK reliance on fossil fuels. Research in this area also has the potential to influence the manufacturing sector.

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

ensuring improvements for solar technology for domestic use and international sale

P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs

Reduced reliance on conventional power generation methods reduces the need for fuel/energy imports

P3: Establish a new place for industry that is built upon a 'make it local, make it bespoke' approach

Solar PV has already proved to be a disruptive technology, introducing future challenges regarding the balance of energy on the energy grid. This has had a positive impact on innovation and competition in the energy market. Continuing support will encourage improvements in UK infrastructure and in energy security, reduce overall cost and contribute to a sustainable society.

  1. The Solar Commission A bright future: opportunities for UK innovation in solar energy, (2019).
  2. Net Zero: UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, (2019).
  3. International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics, Ninth Edition (2018)
  4. BEIS, Industrial Strategy, (2018).
  5. BEIS, The Clean Growth Strategy, (2018).
  6. UKERC, The costs and impacts of intermittency – 2016 update, (2017).
  7. Supergen Programme Review (2016).
  8. Supergen SuperSolar Hub reports, (2016).
  9. Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG), Solar Photovoltaic and Thermal Technology Innovation Needs Assessment (TINA), (2016).
  10. Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME), (2016).
  11. Climate Change Committee, The Fifth Carbon Budget, (2016).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Solar Technology (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Elizabeth Bent
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Department: Energy
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444426