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Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems: Current Research and Special Projects

A review of the Fraunhofer ISE research and special projects

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE is the largest solar energy research institute in Europe with subsidiaries and branches reaching all over the world. Fraunhofer ISE uses application-oriented research to develop energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies covering their five main research areas: photovoltaics, solar-thermal, building energy, hydrogen, and energy systems. In the last year, Fraunhofer ISE earned an 81.1 million Euro budget funded heavily through government grants and industry investment; this budget allows the minds at Fraunhofer to pursue groundbreaking research driving industry and competition forward.

Photovoltaics, or solar panels, produced by Fraunhofer ISE are just one of the areas in high demand from the institute. Over the years, their research has yielded products with increased efficiency, a better price to performance ratio, and overall greater stability of the final product. With changes to their silicon crystallization process and reduced thickness of their solar cell, Fraunhofer has been able to increase their cell efficiency, reduce their material use and cost per solar panel. This work known as the Laser Fired Contact Project earned the Fraunhofer Institute the prestigious Joseph von Frauberg 2016 Prize and to this day the production of 20 million of these panels. Their research with photovoltaics expands beyond the solar cell itself; the module, or casing for the cell containing the mechanics of the panel, also requires attention. Fraunhofer ISE has taken special measures to develop modules adaptable to specific areas and climates to limit module degradation and integrity. Finally, panels are subjected to a rigorous yield assessment, module accreditation, system testing, and performance verification to ensure each product meets the quality and efficacy standards affiliated with this institute.

Rooftop solar panels at the Fraunhofer Institute that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Solar Thermal Technology is increasingly in high demand as homes and businesses work to combine their water and heating systems as well as harness the ability to store extra energy gained throughout the day. Research into the materials used for this technology, thermal collection and storage, and the innovative use of thermal membrane distillation for water treatment are a few of the technologies being developed by the Fraunhofer ISE.

By 2022, a directive states that all buildings must be zero energy, or produce as much energy as it uses. This directive alone has created a greater need to revolutionize the building structure including the building envelope, heating and cooling systems, thermal storage, and lighting. Through capturing and storing the heat generated by windows in the building envelope, buildings could produce a portion of their energy and save money by installing fewer rooftop solar panels. The Fraunhofer ISE currently heats their buildings through heat reclamation systems and their windows; the cooling process passes warm air through cold concrete pipes before the air enters the building. There is a large market for thermal storage today as much of the energy gained throughout the day is later lost or cannot be stored for long amounts of time in large enough quantities. By improving storage technology, businesses will more reasonably be expected to meet this energy directive.

The Fraunhofer ISE has a special relationship with the many universities in the area allowing researchers to teach their specialty at the university while also conducting research at Fraunhofer. Students have the unique opportunity to take these classes and conduct research alongside professionals. This apprenticeship program and others like it allow students to gain relevant and professional experience and a potential job in the future. Numerous faculty at Fraunhofer ISE take part in this program connecting industry with university to provide students with an in-depth look at the real world.

Students patiently await our meeting with Dr. Bruno Burger and Dr. Anne Kovach-Hebling of the Fraunhofer Institute to learn about revolutionary renewable technologies.

Aside from conducting cutting edge research on tomorrow’s technology, specialized projects such as documenting energy production also take place at the Fraunhofer ISE. Dr. Bruno Burger demonstrated his work with an impressive and comprehensive data collection website (www.energy-charts.de) that updates hourly to provide real time results on energy production in Germany. This website features everything from daily production from all energy sources to energy exports and imports to country energy comparisons. Fraunhofer ISE is doing some impressive things; whether it be researching the technology of the future or educating the next generation of brilliant minds, the Fraunhofer Institute will surely be at the forefront of innovation and a leader in revolutionary technology.

-Natalie Schuster