December 27, 2007

Cornell Joins Solar Energy Consortium

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On Dec. 4, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-22nd District) announced that Cornell will be one of five universities joining New York State’s Solar Energy Consortium, which he helped create.
The consortium, according to a press release, is “a not-for-profit solar consortium driven by industry, in collaboration with public, private, academic, environmental, labor and economic development partners – with the goal of creating fully integrated solar-powered systems.”
The consortium, whose members include Clarkson University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York, Binghamton and The State University of New York at New Paltz, will be based in Kingston, N.Y., and is expected to generate thousands of jobs over the next few years.
According to Prof. George G. Malliaras, materials science and engineering, director of the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility, solar energy is “a green technology that harvests energy from the sun.”
Solar energy is produced by solar cells, which are also known as photovoltaic devices. The cells are flat structures that absorb the solar energy in sunlight to produce electrical energy. This electricity can be used directly in homes and businesses to power a variety of appliances.
Solar cells are currently too expensive, however, for wide-spread commercial use. Malliaras said scientists and researches need to “figure out how to lower the cost” with either new design concepts from new materials or by raising the efficiency of the cells.
The Cornell NanoScale Facility in Duffield Hall makes Cornell the best place to research nanotechnology, the science which will be used to improve solar cells, according to Malliaras. Efficiency refers to the ratio of how many watts of energy are available compared to the ratio of how many watts are produced. A higher number means a greater efficiency.
As a member of the consortium, “Cornell has a leadership role in developing solar cell technology in New York State,” Malliaras said.
He added that greater federal and state government support will lead to increased green energy production, which will require less burning of coal and fossil fuels. This is becoming increasingly important as the amount of fossil fuels worldwide diminishes. The solar energy technology is also beneficial because it creates less pollution than traditional energy methods.
While Malliaras acknowledged that “the University is committed to becoming a green campus,” he said the consortium differs from campus sustainability efforts because “professors’ research is separate from an administrative choice for managing the campus.”
Carlos Rymer ’08, president of the Cornell Sustainability Hub and vice president of Cornell KyotoNOW!, stated in an e-mail, “The student community welcomes Cornell’s contribution to the [New York] solar consortium. As a signer of the Presidents Climate Commitment, Cornell is clearly on board in doing the most it can to mitigate global warming on campus. Obviously, that is great and shows tremendous leadership that is much needed elsewhere, but it doesn’t do enough to solve the problem. One of Cornell’s strengths is its research capacity, and we would be very proud if the University could produce different solar technologies that can be sold and mass-produced more cheaply than all fossil fuels.”
Yee-Fun Lim grad, who works on solar cells, also welcomed Cornell’s entrance into the consortium, saying, “[The consortium] will bring in more money and more resources, which is always good.”