Solar energy is emitted by the sun and transferred to earth by electromagnetic radiation. The energy from this radiation can be captured and used to generate electricity using two distinct approaches:
- Photovoltaic (PV) technologies, or those that directly convert sunlight into electricity, are generally deployed on buildings and in community applications. Research is needed for innovative materials and manufacturing techniques in order to continue to drive down costs of PV materials, with the ultimate goal to achieve grid parity.
- Solar thermal technologies, or those that convert sunlight into heat and use the heat to generate electricity, are generally applied at the utility-scale. Research is needed for potential storage technologies that can be coupled with solar thermal utility scale projects in order to generate electricity even when the sun is not shining.
California contains some of the highest potential solar resources in the country, and along with it some ambitious solar energy policy goals. In order to support the expansion of solar energy at each market scale, the Energy Commission performs research with the technical assistance of the California Solar Energy Collaborative. Potential research topics include:
- Technologies and techniques to minimize and mitigate the environmental impacts of solar power plants on California's pristine habitats,
- Approaches to address the intermittent nature of solar energy generation,
- Improved forecasting methods to better predict periods of low insolation and
- Unique materials and manufacturing practices to lower production costs and increase efficiency.