Solar technology

Research and development of devices to harness incident solar radiation for conversion to other energy vectors or for direct use. Including solar heating/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).

Over the course of the next Delivery Plan, we will continue to maintain funding as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. 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 and new materials (e.g. potentially game-changing perovskites, which offer outstanding power conversion efficiencies)
  • Transferable skills from other topics within the research area (e.g. crystalline silicon, dye-sensitised cells) will be promoted
  • Recognising the importance of systems integration we will encourage the community to collaborate with groups and organisations (e.g. the Energy Storage community) outside this area, 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. Advancing low-cost solar technologies (e.g. integration into hybrid systems, scalability and manufacturing techniques) and their integration into the whole energy system is a priority. Research into the use of solar technologies with hydrogen fuel cells, for example, will also be explored.

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, 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 5,6) where the nature of the technology enables deployment in a variety of locations (e.g. domestic roofs, industrial properties). As a result, consumers can generate their own power and subsequent innovations in the energy market have led to government revising its investments in solar energy schemes (e.g. its Feed-in Tariffs (Evidence source 5)). Continued support for research in this area will assist development of new concepts and, crucially, new materials with potential to address current and future challenges, and will increase the efficiency of technologies for a range of applications. The most promising new material, perovskites, the use of which in solar cells is being led by the UK is offering 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 7)

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 Germany, the US and Japan 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 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.

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. Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group (LCICG), Solar Photovoltaic and Thermal Technology Innovation Needs Assessment (TINA), (2016).
  2. Energy Research Partnership, Managing Flexibility Whilst Decarbonising the GB Electricity System (PDF), (2015).
  3. HM Government, 2050 Pathways Analysis (PDF), (2010).
  4. International Energy Agency (IEA), Technology Roadmap: Solar Photovoltaic Energy (PDF), (2014).
  5. HM Government, Feed-in Tariff Statistics: Update (PDF), (2015).
  6. Royal Academy of Engineering, A Critical Time for UK Energy Policy: What Must Be Done Now to Deliver the UK's Future Energy System (PDF), (2015).
  7. Supergen SuperSolar Hub reports, (2016).

Other sources:

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.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

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