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New Research Will Shape Future of Green Economy

On October 21, the National Research Council (NRC) began operations on a new high-efficiency solar energy experiment at the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology, located on NRC property in Ottawa.

“Semiconductors Using Nanostructures for Record Increases in Solar-cell Efficiency” (SUNRISE) is a project that will benefit both the green economy and those eager to make solar energy more efficient.

The SUNRISE project is primarily funded by the NRC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Business Development Bank of Canada. Its purpose is to test nanostructures for their ability to increase output from concentrator PV cells.  The solar cells used in the project are designed to capture and convert a much wider portion of the light spectrum than traditional panels – from X-rays, through the visible light spectrum, into the infrared range.

Students preparing for renewable energy careers at the University of Ottawa and L’Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec will analyze the experimental data – if the project succeeds, these students’ careers could prove to be quite lucrative given how in-demand solar energy expertise is throughout the country.

Environment, Solar Economy Benefit from SUNRISE

The green technology used in the SUNRISE project is the result of years of research performed by Ottawa’s Cyrium Technologies, Inc. (Cyrium), and Connecticut-based OPEL Solar, Inc. (OPEL), which has an office in Toronto.  Both companies produce concentrator PV cells that contain technology previously used only in space-based applications.  Cyrium guarantees on its Web site that its modules operate at between 38-40% efficiency.  This certification suggests a promising starting point for the SUNRISE project.

Chief researcher for SUNRISE, Karen Hinzer, says that the technology’s efficiency is rising rapidly and that the theoretical upward limit is 80%.  “We’re now testing methodologies at the University of Ottawa to… see how these cells perform outside in the environment.”

While the new technology shows promise in terms of efficiency, its effects on the future of PV installation in Ontario are unclear.  PV training and certification programs will have to adapt in order to ensure its safe and successful introduction into the market.  The CSA, for example, may have to make changes to certification criteria it is drafting for construction electricians who work with PV.

Despite the potential hurdles the project presents to the green economy, the benefits are clear – more solar energy in Ontario’s electrical grid and more solar dollars in Ontarians’ pockets.

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