Prof Armin Aberle, CEO of SERIS, explaining the institute's solar research capabilities to NUS President Prof Tan Eng Chye (centre) and Mr Hugh Lim, CEO of the Building and Construction Authority (right)/ Credit: NUS

Prof Armin Aberle, CEO of SERIS, explaining the institute's solar research capabilities to NUS President Prof Tan Eng Chye (centre) and Mr Hugh Lim, CEO of the Building and Construction Authority (right)/ Credit: NUS

Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore launches three flagship R&D projects

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) launched three flagship R&D projects to further expand and deepen its capabilities on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

SERIS was established on 1 April 2008 by its founding Director Professor Joachim Luther, a global authority on solar energy, with a mission to be Singapore’s national institute for applied solar energy research. The institute is supported by NUS, the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF) and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

Over the last decade, SERIS has played an integral role in stimulating the development of Singapore’s Cleantech sector and has grown to become one of the leading applied solar institutes in the world.

Today, the institute has a staff strength of 220, including 139 scientists, engineers and technicians, 56 postgraduate research students, 25 technical infrastructure and administration personnel. SERIS had also trained 110 PhD students, many of whom are now contributing to the solar energy sector and some have founded their own start-ups.

SERIS has also established strong collaborations with solar companies in Singapore and around the world, and has received over S$30 million in research funding from industry in the last 10 years.

These new projects will complement SERIS’ international R&D leadership in the fields of industrial silicon wafer solar cells, industrial PV module development and testing, “Urban solar”, variability management for PV grid integration, and PV quality assurance (details about these are available here).

New research initiatives

The first initiative is a collaborative research project with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) of NRF to develop a 30% efficient thin-film-on-silicon tandem solar cell.

The practical efficiency of silicon solar cells is limited to about 28% under natural sunlight, whereby the world record efficiency is 26.6% at present. To boost the efficiency of silicon solar cells above the 30% threshold, they need to be combined with a second solar cell on top, to achieve a better harvest of the solar spectrum. Combining a thin-film top cell with a silicon bottom cell is considered to be the most promising technology path to cost-effective 30% efficient solar cells.

In this project, NTU and CREATE will develop the thin-film top cells, while SERIS will develop optimised silicon bottom cells. Both III-V materials (combining elements from columns III and V of the periodic table) and perovskite materials will be investigated as top-cell materials.

The second project involves the development of low-cost, high-efficiency building-integrated PV (BIPV) modules and systems to replace parts of the building envelope with PV, including the facades.

With an existing building stock of more than 100,000 and little land for utility-scale ground-mounted PV systems, the vast majority of Singapore’s PV capacity will be installed on top of, or attached to buildings.

Roof-top PV systems are standard commercial practice, but adding PV to the facade of existing or new buildings poses more challenges due to building regulations and lower irradiance reaching the vertical parts of a building.

SERIS will therefore be working on high-efficiency, light-weight solar technologies that are aesthetically pleasing and yet economically viable. Such BIPV technologies are expected to open up new business opportunities with their potential for immediate commercialisation and export.

The third flagship project will develop a multi-purpose floating PV system that is suitable for off-shore applications in sheltered waters like Singapore.

SERIS operates the world’s largest “Floating Solar” testbed at Tengeh reservoir in collaboration with PUB, Singapore’s national water agency. It is comparatively testing and evaluating 10 different floating PV installations from around the world. This project is funded by EDB.

In view of the space constraints of Singapore, SERIS could expand its leadership role in two areas: (i) multi-purpose floating PV structures; and (ii) off-shore floating systems, specifically for the sheltered waters in and around Singapore.

Such efforts could take advantage of the well-established marine industry in Singapore, with a vision to have “energy islands” in the future which will supply energy to nearby industrial zones or living areas.

Past achievements

Since its inception, SERIS has been pushing the boundaries for industry-relevant solar technologies.

In 2012, the institute developed the world’s first all-back-contact silicon solar cell with efficiencies of over 20% using low-cost screen-printed metallisation. The technology was successfully transferred to pilot production at an industrial partner.

From 2014 to 2016, SERIS supported REC Solar in the development of its award-winning TwinPeak solar module. The panel’s efficiency of up to 18% makes it the world’s highest-performing multicrystalline silicon solar panel, with power outputs of 20 Watts more than other commercially available standard panels.

In 2017, SERIS commercialised and licensed an advanced tool design and layer formation method - called “monoPoly technology” - for silicon solar cells with passivated contacts to a large European photovoltaic equipment manufacturer.

SERIS also produced the world’s first full-size bifacial module (power can be produced from both sides of a bifacial module) with IBC (interdigitated back contact) solar cells. The module generates up to 30% extra power from sunlight reflected off the ground to the module’s rear surface.

SERIS has also developed a proprietary and award-winning real-time monitoring system with very high reliability and availability, which is the backbone of the well-known “Live irradiance map of Singapore” - making Singapore the only country in the world with this capability. The live irradiance and real-time monitoring is also serves as the base of SERIS’ leading solar forecasting work.

SERIS also designed, implemented and constantly monitors one of the best-performing PV systems in the world, which is installed within the NUS Kent Ridge Campus. Despite the tougher climatic conditions in the tropics with constant high temperatures and high humidity, this system has been able to achieve a 90% performance ratio (PR; it is the ratio of the actual and theoretically possible energy outputs.), with very little degradation.

Knowledge gained from the operation of this system has subsequently been shared with the local PV system integration community through workshops conducted by the institute.

Similarly, SERIS is working closely with government agencies and the private sector to enable the SolarNova programme, which aims to install 350 MWp of PV systems on government-owned buildings by 2020.

SERIS is now widely recognised as the global leader in “Floating Solar”. In October 2017, the institute had also organised the first floating solar conference globally at the 2017 Asia Clean Energy Summit.

Professor Armin Aberle, Chief Executive Officer of SERIS, said, “Leveraging our world-class research capabilities and services, SERIS is fully committed to be an important player in the solarisation of Singapore and a trendsetter in the global solar energy sector. We will continue to work closely with our research and industry partners to develop novel solutions that can further improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar power systems. The ultimate goal is to provide affordable, reliable and secure solar power for our homes, offices and industries.”

“SERIS will continue to champion the solarisation of Singapore through innovative deployment methods such as floating PV and Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). Its new BIPV Centre of Excellence will help with pioneering techniques to retrofit existing buildings with solar systems. These initiatives are instrumental to increasing solar deployment in space-constrained Singapore, and will spearhead new markets for our clean energy industry to strengthen our position as a leading Cleantech hub in Asia,” commented Mr Lim Kok Kiang, Assistant Managing Director at EDB.

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