Solar Centre Twente

The Sun is a wonderful source to cover our energy demand.

The University of Twente comprises a rich and diverse landscape in the field of solar energy across all faculties. One day, fossil fuels will be depleted, but the Sun continues to provide an enormous amount of energy. The Solar Centre is a Centre of Expertise aimed to bring together researchers to better connect interdisciplinary research between faculties, UT-wide education and (inter)national collaboration on the topic of solar energy. 

We want to become an excellent academic partner in solar energy research and product development over the full value chain.

Solar Energy

In one hour, Earth receives as much energy from the Sun as mankind consumes in a year. It is therefore inevitable that this very secure and inexhaustible source of energy will play an important role in the energy transition towards a close to zero-emission energy supply in 2050. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to explore how we can effectively convert solar irradiance to electricity, heat and fuels. At present, the most dominant solar energy technology is photovoltaics (PV). Thanks to efficiency enhancements and significant cost reductions, in the past decade the number of installed PV systems has been steadily growing with 20 to 40% per year, resulting in close to 1 terawatt peak (TWp) of cumulative installed power worldwide contributing about 5% to the global electricity demand. This happens at levelized costs of electricity far below the spot price of electricity in European grids. So far, the share of solar thermal systems and solar fuels in existing energy infrastructures has been limited, however, it is expected that these solar energy conversions will soon become more prominently available under the present energy policies and by technological advances.

Research themes

UT topics in the field of solar energy are very diverse and have different embodiments. The aim of the UT action plan is a common approach that includes current UT themes embedded in faculties programmes and Shaping 2030 to shape society, create connections and shape individuals. The focus in the roadmap will be placed on the following innovative research themes:

  1. Materials science for solar energy conversion
  2. Smart system integration and optimization
  3. Designing improved product-service combinations
Materials science for solar energy conversion

Through the years, new materials and processes have enabled many innovations in sustainable energy technologies. The study of materials and development of new ones are therefore key research activities for the successful development of solar energy technologies, to either improve power conversion efficiencies, employ sustainable process and replace the use of critical and toxic materials. At the UT and MESA+ Institute, we have a strong track record in materials science research, with several PIs across faculties focusing on materials for utilization in photovoltaics and solar fuel devices.

Our research covers the whole spectrum, from theory all the way to material implementation in proof-of-concept devices, making it a multidisciplinary research program covering fundamentals and applications. More specifically: Computational materials studies allow us to understand materials properties which help guide material discovery as well as improve materials properties to enhance power conversion efficiencies. Insights from theory are furthermore applied by experimentalist to demonstrate material predictions and explain measured phenomena. On the materials synthesis side, PIs at UT use physical and chemical vapor deposition techniques as well as several chemical synthesis routes to create thin films and nanostructures for in-depth characterization and solar cell implementation. Functional characterization of optical, structural, electronic and electrical properties, are as well an important part of the research at UT. Materials and technologies that are studied at UT includes hybrid halide perovskite solar cells, chalcogenide solar absorbers, transparent conducting oxides, metal oxides for photocatalyst, metal nanostructures and luminophores for light management. All this with the common goal of enhancing the utilization of solar energy and enable the development of high efficiency PV technologies.

  Our vision is to further strengthen these activities in terms of infrastructure and personnel, and reach the needed critical mass to be at the forefront of materials science research for solar energy in The Netherlands and abroad. Moreover, our aim is to link our fundamental and applied materials research with device engineering (either at UT or with national and international partners) to demonstrate stable, high efficiency and scalable photo-conversion devices. All this with the goal of achieving sustainable energy devices (e.g. solar cells) using non-critical (abundant) materials and sustainable processes.

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Smart system integration and optimization

This theme aims at integrating and optimizing solar energy systems in green distributed energy systems. These solar energy systems can be embedded in both grid-connected infrastructures and off-grid energy grids (residential, community-based, industrial). An excellent performance, high reliability and long durability at feasible costs will each be prevailing criteria for full, long term integration of solar energy systems in existing or new infrastructures.  Next to photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal conversions and solar fuel generation components, these systems are also comprised of other energy components for both electricity, heat, and fuel supply, such as innovative solutions for short-term to seasonal storage of energy, and smart energy management systems that optimize performance and flexibility of solar energy systems in combination with end-user demand, electric vehicles and heat pumps.

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Designing improved product-service combinations

It will be a multidisciplinary challenge to create well-integrated solar product-service systems that can supply electricity, heat and solar fuels. Namely the introduction of newly designed solar energy products and systems, requires profound business model innovations in a wide range of industry sectors, including infrastructures, the built environment, the transport sector and industry. In this context, adding services to products ("servitization") seems to be an attractive strategy for actors involved in the energy sector. Integration of products and services are associated with both design processes, marketing, strategic and financial benefits. Hence, solar energy innovations within a new sociotechnical system are increasingly taking place in networks or ecosystems of producers, users, complementors and several other institutions that create social systems consisting of multiple actors, which alignment is hindered by institutional arrangements like industry habits, rules and legislation, cultural settings and so on.

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