Lecture focuses on solar power concepts

November 2014

More people, more power. Experts estimate that by the year 2050, global population will top 12 billion. And the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Wladek Walukiewicz says worldwide power consumption will more than double as a result.

Wladek WalukiewiczWalukiewicz, senior staff scientist, principal investigator in the Materials Sciences Division, and deputy Program Leader of the Electronics Materials Program at Berkeley National Lab, delivered the first President’s Lecture for 2014-15 recently in the Student Center theater.  His topic was “Development Trends for High Efficiency Solar Cells and Transparent Conductive Oxides.” Walukiewicz said carbon-free sources of energy will be needed to keep up with the ever-increasing supply that would diminish other resources, including those obtained by processes such as hydrofracking.

“Some people say we can abandon this type of research because of fracking, but fracking will end. There is only a finite amount of the material in the earth.”

One of the key places that Walukiewicz feels humans should be looking toward for energy is one that’s right above them every day: the sun.  And using solar energy to create electricity—photovoltaics—is just one of a trio of methods that Walukiewicz and other researchers at Berkeley are looking into. Other methods include photosynthesis—making fuel directly from plants—and extracting hydrogen from water to produce fuel.

Walukiewicz says new solar concepts are developed based on the progress in understanding of the electronic structure of complex semiconductor systems. And, he says, better understanding of the properties of surfaces and interfaces of the dissimilar materials is essential to finding practical use for the new materials in high efficiency solar and photoelectrochemical cells.

Over the course of the 20th century, world population quadrupled and energy consumption increased sixteen-fold. Walukiewicz hopes that through physics, chemistry and materials science, it will be possible to find methods of energy production that meet the needs of an ever-growing population in an affordable way.

“What is needed is to find methods of producing energy through benign methods that are inexpensive enough to compete,” he said. “As it’s very hard to convince people to pay more for energy, it is important to lower costs while at the same time pulling from non-carbon-based sources.”