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PROFESSOR ALEX FREUNDLICH (LEFT): AIMING AT A $1 PER WATT BENCHMARK

PAUL CHU: FOUNDER OF THE TEXAS CENTER FOR SUPERCONDUCTIVITY AT UH

Freundlich’s work also is used in other industries, including communications, energy and defense. Right now, he is primarily focused on the residential and commercial markets. That is spurred in part by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, an effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade. The Department of Energy supports a range of activities by industry, academia and national laboratories to drive down the installed cost of solar, without federal subsidies. Reaching 6-cents per KWH When the price of solar electricity reaches a lifetime cost of $1 per installed solar watt (about 5 or 6 cents per kilowatt-hour), the DOE says it will be cost-competitive with nonrenewable forms of electricity and that, in turn, will allow solar power to grow from less than 1 percent of the nation’s current electricity supply to about 14 percent by 2030 and 27 percent by 2050. Manufacturing and installation of solar energy technology is already growing in the United States and globally. “We’re not there today,” Freundlich said of the $1 per watt benchmark. “But we’re not too far off.” The benefit to consumers is clear, he explains.

PROFESSOR VENKAT SELVAMANICKAM: ‘THE WIRE CAN BE USED ACROSS A MULTITUDE OF APPLICATIONS.’

“As a customer, all you want is to have power at a cost-effective price and, let’s hope, it has the least impact on your environment. Wind is cool, but it is very noisy. Oil and gas are nice, but the smell is not the best. Solar is quite silent, and you don’t get the pollution that is produced by traditional forms of energy.” Students benefit from the research, too. Freundlich’s lab is part of the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center, an 11-university global consortium sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, spearheaded by Arizona State University. The group’s goal is to speed the growth of solar by tapping into the expertise of the various universities working collaboratively – Freundlich’s group, for instance, is recognized for its expertise in quantum engineering. Students have the opportunity to work in the labs of partner schools, as well as to participate in outreach efforts, including pushing for more public awareness of solar energy. “We are trying to develop a technology that is not just a great publication or a great patent,” Freundlich said. “We want it to be a technology that will have an actual impact on society.”

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Research & Innovation  

University of Houston Research and Innovation - Spring 2014

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