Solar Energy – Fact, Fiction, and Discovery

Speaker: Professor Vladimir Bulovic, co-chair of the MIT Energy Studies Program  and Co-Director of the eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center.

Through the lens of a scientist, an engineer, and a technology inventor Professor Bulovic will present the solar technology landscape and its potential contribution to the U.S. energy footprint. Sunlight is by far the most abundant global carbon-neutral energy resource known to man, and has the potential to meet our large-scale energy needs, yet less than 0.1% of U.S. energy is provided by solar technologies. Two unfortunate drawbacks of sunlight as an energy source are its relatively low power densities and intermittency. These limit the practical appeal of solar energy technologies and make capturing sunlight on a large scale a difficult problem. The talk will quantify both the sheer scale of energy demand in the U.S. and the potential for solar energy to become a viable alternative to fossil fuel consumption. We will discuss why solar cell conversion efficiency requirements are so formidable, why cost considerations are so stringent, and why high-throughput manufacturing processes are essential for the success of solar technology deployment. Such doses of reality always spurs MIT innovation. Therefore, as a glimpse into the world beyond conventional solar technologies, the talk will present the latest MIT advancements of transparent, lightweight and 3D solar cells that enable seamless integration of solar technologies with large built-area environments, for a scalable introduction of solar-enhanced living. Keep in mind that in just one hour of sunlight, the sun’s energy striking the surface of the earth matches all of the fossil energy consumed globally in a year, and you will recognize that our most abundant energy source is still waiting to be tapped.