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

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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