Solar Innovations

SPEAKER 1: The following UW 360 story is made possible by the generous support of BECU. BECU, more than just money. [MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 2: You see them on houses, on apartments, and government buildings, and even on University of Washington campuses. Solar cells– soaking up the sunlight and turning it into energy. DAVID GINGER: We're very interested in solar here at the Clean Energy Institute because solar is the most abundant renewable resource that there is. SPEAKER 2: David Ginger is the Institute's Associate Director and Kwiram Professor of Chemistry at UW. He'd like to see solar panels on every rooftop. The Washington Research Foundation Distinguished Scholar says that the key to making them more appealing to consumers is to make them more affordable. DAVID GINGER: If you want to decrease the cost of your solar cells, you want to decrease the materials cost. But you also want to decrease the manufacturing cost, and you want to decrease the installation cost. SPEAKER 2: Solar panels have traditionally been built from very brittle material. DAVID GINGER: You can see if I flex it, it shatters into many pieces.

So that's the most common material you'd find on people's houses. SPEAKER 2: But Ginger and other researchers are working on developing a solar cell that's thinner, cheaper, and more durable. DAVID GINGER: We're looking at thin film plastic photovoltaic cells that was printed here at the university. You can print the active layer, and it's completely flexible. You can imagine rolling it up. You can install this by unrolling it, like you would install by unrolling carpet. WILLIAM HWANG: My work, in particular, is making conductive silver inks. SPEAKER 2: Graduate students William Hwang and James Clark are members of the Clean Energy Institute's research team. JAMES CLARK: We work on really fundamental different materials that aren't out there right now to try and understand them better so that we can increase the efficiency of the final device. SPEAKER 2: To demonstrate the power of these solar inks, they've even built a solar-powered toy car. The solar material on top converts energy from light into mechanical energy. WILLIAM HWANG: One of the main highlights of working in the lab is to be able to work on something new, and it is really exciting to be the first person to try something out.

And I think that sort of encompasses the research experience at the University of Washington. DANIEL SCHWARTZ: We really want solar energy to be adopted everywhere, and that means it has to be cost-effective. And so we're putting in batteries and other– SPEAKER 2: Institute Director Daniel Schwartz hopes to accelerate research and innovation with the creation of the Clean Energy Test Beds. The beds will be a makerspace for alternative, electronic, and battery materials technologies. It will also be a place to study renewable energy integration with the smart grid. They're being built near the Seattle campus and are scheduled to open in 2017. DANIEL SCHWARTZ: The Clean Energy Test Beds will also be a spot where global strategic partners, the companies that might be able to take an idea that comes out of the university to the next level, and bring it to the masses. SPEAKER 2: Schwartz says the test beds will allow researchers to print solar cells in huge sheets or rolls, much like newsprint. He hopes it can make solar energy more affordable to consumers and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels. DANIEL SCHWARTZ: Everybody knows that this is extremely important. They have a sense, a visceral sense, that there is a need to pour energy into clean energy.