AuthorEuropean Union Publications Office, 2006

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Overview: Major Fields of Research and Key Nations Involved

R&D Areas Crystalline Silicon, Thin Film, New Concepts, Building Integration
State of Commercialisation Niche markets or subsidiary schemes
Key Nations Japan, United States, Germany
Expected contributions to EU energy policy targets < 1% of Europe’s electricity supply before 2030 major share beyond 2050
EC policy backing EU Directives
Key Member States Germany, Netherlands, Italy (accounting for - 65% of Member State PV RTD funding)

Photovoltaics (PV) has the potential to contribute a major share of Europe's electricity supply in a long-term perspective (after 2050)41. However, its contribution before 2030 will be rather limited (< 1% of Europe's electricity demand)42.The overall objective is to expand the use of grid-connected PV systems in the electricity sector with a meaningful and growing penetration by PV in Europe by 2030, and a significant penetration in non-grid markets by 2020. Such an objective will require new developments in materials and manufacturing processes, linking the physics of PV devices to manufacturing process technologies [ERAWOG 2005].

Basically two different aims and strategies can be attributed to the different technology lines, with no winning technology evident to date:

* The field of crystalline silicon is quite well established. Production for the (partly highly subsidised) market already exists. The long-term strategy is to bring down costs by evolutionary improvements based on RTD activities and economies of scale.

* Thin film and new concepts (e.g. dye-sensitised cells, organic cells or nanotechnology- related concepts) have little market penetration as yet or have so far been limited to laboratory or demonstration stages. The strategic aim is to achieve a major breakthrough in cost reduction with the introduction of such new concepts and materials.

On an economic level Japan has taken over global leadership from the United States in terms of market power and industrial knowhow, mainly by implementing strong national support actions for the installation of PV systems. However Europe is catching up, both with regards to installation rates and industrial production capacity.

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Research Priorities in the EC, Member States and Third Countries

The EC research priorities are strongly oriented towards cost reduction of electricity produced from solar cells. Currently there are three focal points of EC research into PV:

* In the field of crystalline silicon EC-funded research aims at improving existing approaches and coordinating activities undertaken by Member States. In addition to some long-term activities, there is a large amount of short to mid-term research which aims at enhancing manufacturing processes and also comprises silicon feedstock.

* Alternatives to crystalline silicon are being explored with the intention of achieving technological breakthroughs that will result in drastic cost reductions. The focus of EC research here is on thin film technologies. Research into new concepts and new materials (e.g. dye-sensitised cells, nanotechnology) is being conducted with an explicit long-term perspective.

* Research into PV systems and integration issues (especially building integration) is being conducted on a short-term basis. It is partly addressed in specific projects and partly integrated into IPs (Integrated Projects) which address one of the two above issues.

An interesting project that should be highlighted is PV MIPS as it is very much the exception in the current PV portfolio which is dominated by big IPs focusing on materials, cells and modules. Very much in contrast to this, PV MIPS aims to reduce costs and bring PV into the market and has a short to mid-term time horizon.

PV MIPS is an integrated project with a project volume of euros 10.5 M and EC funding of euros 4.4 M. The main objective of the project is the development and demonstration of a new generation of PV modules with integrated power conversion systems. The aim is to reduce the cost of the electricity generated by grid-connected systems. The research will have a strong focus on building integrated PVs, thus improving the prospects of PV technology for applications in the densely populated areas of Europe. Major research and industry partners from Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Greece are involved in the project.

The project is subject to evaluation after its completion in 2009.

Non-technological barriers and support for the promotion of PV applications in the market are tackled through Intelligent Energy - Europe, the new programme launched by the Commission at the end of 2003. The ALTENER component of this programme, dealing specifically with renewables, makes special provision for small-scale PV applications in individual dwellings as well as for larger PV generators integrated into electricity supply systems.

Demonstration, especially the integration of PVs in polygeneration concepts, is also addressed in several projects funded under CONCERTO. The COOPENER component of the programme, dealing with international cooperation, supports projects aimed at encouraging sustainable development and poverty alleviation in both rural and urban areas of developing countries, through the provision of renewable energy services (including PVs) together with energy efficiency.

The PV RTD portfolio of Member States is relatively coherent with the EC portfolio. However, research into photovoltaics at Member State level is very heterogeneous and the active countries conduct research on the different cell types with differing levels of intensity. In many cases research is also linked to industry activities, which in Europe tend to be nationally oriented due to the large number of SMEs active in this field.

The general focus in all countries is on cost reduction. Research generally ranges from very fundamental basic research at the cell level to applied research aiming at implementation at the industry level. The main players in Europe are Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

* Germany43 is active in many research fields. Technical targets include the enhancement of Silicon feedstock technology, thin-film technologies (from the lab to the market) and systems integration.

* In the Netherlands44 key technologies researched are both wafer-based (multi-) crystalline silicon and thin film technologies (especially low-temperature thin film silicon).

* In Switzerland45 there is a strong knowledge base in the field of new materials (dye sensitised cells, organic cells). In the field of system development and demonstration particular emphasis is placed on building integrated PVs.

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Various activities have been undertaken to improve coordination of PV RTD activities at the EU level. A conference to launch The European Technology Platform on Photovoltaics was held in Brussels on Sept 28, 2004. Another activity is the PV ERA-NET which brings together the national and regional research programmes of ministries and energy agencies of 11 countries in the PV field. A first task of the PV-ERA-NET was the assessment of ongoing research activities at country and regional levels46.

Activities are relatively well coordinated at industry level. EPIA is involved in many SSA and coordination actions, e.g. in PV Catapult, a new Coordination Action within FP6 which will involve more than 70 partners from European industry, the research community and other major stakeholders in the PV sector.

Within the last decade, Japan has taken over global leadership from the United States in terms of installed capacity, market power and industrial knowledge in the field of photovoltaics. In both countries industry activities have been backed by support schemes for the installation of PV systems.

Both countries have a long tradition of high PV RTD funding. On a general level the research objectives are similar to those of the EU. Cost reductions and efficiency gains at system level are the main focus. Research ranges from very basic to applied, which is carried out with the involvement of industrial players.

Research priority setting in Japan47 is generally viewed as rather top down with a strong focus on industry interest. In the case of PV this approach is supported by the fact that Japan's PV industry is dominated by a few global players (e.g. Sharp) - quite in contrast to the structure of the European PV industry which is dominated by SMEs. The major part of research activities is handled by NEDO, which sets the following priorities:

* Development of Advanced Solar Cells and Modules

* Investigation for Innovative PV Technology

* PV System Technology for Mass Deployment

* Development of Technology to Accelerate the Dissemination of Photovoltaic Power Generation Systems.

Priority setting in the US48 (US Department of Energy - Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) tends to cover the same range as EU PV research. EERE research programmes are structured along the production chain and focus on:

* Fundamental Research

* Materials and Devices

* Technology Development

The most significant difference is visible in the field of super high-efficiency cells mounted on concentrator systems. This is a technological path which has received little funding in the EC's FP5 and is marginal in current research activities in the EU49. Here the US follows the strategy of diversification, thus supporting all technological approaches which are considered reasonable by industry.

China shows increasing activities in PV R&D covering virtually all aspects. The focus lies on:

* Single crystalline Si solar cells

* Thin film solar cells

* Compound semiconductor solar cells

* Dye-sensitised TiO2 cells

The National Reform and Planning Commission is increasingly supporting photovoltaics in terms of installing PV systems but also in terms of a strategic industry policy for PVs (e.g. support for plants for silicon feedstock). In this respect a closer link between research and industrial development can be anticipated in the coming years in China [MRS 2005].

Australia50 has strong competence in the field of crystalline silicon but more on a basic research level.

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Funding for Photovoltaic Energy Research
European Commission-Funded Research

Generally photovoltaics receives the highest share of funding among all renewable energy technologies - this holds true for EC-funded research and, at the EU level, for activities by Member States as well as for activities in Japan and the US.

Within FP5 the emphasis of the PV portfolio was clearly placed on medium to long term research, since this represented 60% of the projects funded by the EC. In FP6, the main emphasis lies on crystalline silicon research, which receives more than 30% of the total FP6 PV funding51.

In the field of materials, cells and modules the major share of EU funding (euros 37.2 M, which is 65% of the PV FP6 budget granted so far) is accounted for by three IPs which aim at a lateral integration from basic research at the cell level up to basic and applied research at the module level for each of the cell types (crystalline silicon, thin film and new concepts). All but one project are oriented towards mid to long term research, thus stating the clear time horizon of EU research in this field. An increasing accent is placed on promoting coordination and cooperation52. Less than 15% of the budget is dedicated to PV systems and photovoltaic building integration53. Funding for dissemination and demonstration has been dramatically reduced from FP5 to FP6. However, one should take into account that there is one more call open and that DG TREN priorities have been underrepresented in the previous calls under FP6.

Research Funded at EU Country Level54 55


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For those Member States that are very active in PV research, photovoltaics makes up the largest share in their renewable energy portfolios. However, the level of funding in Europe has been reduced in this field, both in absolute and relative terms (compared to renewable energy funding). This has been most notable in Germany due to cuts in the budget, and even more so in Italy where there were vigorous research activities during the FP5 period but funding was then reduced by roughly 50% between 1997 and 2003. The only exemption is France, where funding has increased quite sharply over the last five years.

Key players are Germany (close to euros 30 M annual funding between 2000 and 2004) and the Netherlands which has the highest per capita funding in the EU (euros 15M per year) as well as Italy (decreasing funding, euros 12M per year), France (increasing funding, euros 10M per year) and the UK (euros 5M per year). The example of Spain is interesting because, despite its rather limited national funding (euros 4 M per year), Spanish research institutes are strongly engaged in EC-funded research.

In the new Member States there is in general very little activity, and when there is, it tends to be mainly focused on new materials. The most active countries are Poland, Hungary and Estonia. Romania is most active in demonstration and system-related research. Annual funding has been less than euros 1 M accumulated for all ten new Member States (average budgets between 1996 and 2003)56. EC funding for partners in these countries has been almost equally high. However budgets are increasing, with Poland's funding in 2004 close to euros 500 000 and rising.

Switzerland is also important, as PV receives a high level of funding (in total and especially per capita). RTD funding between 2000 and 2004 was almost euros 10 M per year. Howe energy programme, a drastic decline of demonstration pr means of funding (private and industry) can fill the gap.

Research Funded at Third Country Level

RTD efforts in Japan have57 been strongly backed by market stimulation programmes in the past. The major share of research activities was attributed through NEDO, accounting for roughly one-third of the Japanese PV RTD budget. In 2004 NEDO had an overall budget of euros 47 M, which breaks down as follows (NEDO 2004):

* Development of Advanced Solar Cells and Modules: euros 17,1 M

* Investigation for Innovative PV Technology: euros 15.7 M

* PV System Technology for Mass Deployment: euros 8,4 M

* Development of Technology to Accelerate the Dissemination of Photovoltaic Power Generation Systems: euros 5.8 M.

In the US the PV RTD budget peaked most recently in 1996 (at almost euros 85 M) and, after a drastic decrease, has been quite stable over recent years. The lion's share of PV funding in the United States is given by the US Department of Energy (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy - EERE) research programmes, with a budget for 2006 of euros 63 broken down as follows58:

* Fundamental Research: euros 26.4 M

* Materials and Devices: euros 24 M

* Technology Development: euros 12.6 M.

In addition there are programmes related to military and aerospace activities. Furthermore, many states supply funding which is generally more short-term and demonstration-oriented.

R&D funding for PV in Australia between 2000 and 2004 amounted to euros 4 M per year (source IEA).

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Evaluation and Conclusions
Technology Focus

The funding allocation of the EC, the US, Japan and the front-running European states of Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland are quite similar with respect to budget priorities set for the specific technology paths.


Due to the general opinion that none of the technologies can be regarded as a "winning technology" as yet, research topics are quite diverse in all countries and various alternatives are researched simultaneously. The main focus is on materials, cells and modules. In Europe, the US and Japan all technologies (various types of crystalline silicon, thin film or other) are researched with the intention to keep all options open.

Main activities aim at cost reductions and efficiency gains by improvements at the cell and module levels. The share of basic and long-term research is high. It is a general objective to make efficiency gains and cost reductions available for industrial mass production processes. This aim is realised by the strong involvement of industrial players in both the research projects and the procedures for establishing research targets.

Differences are visible in how research programmes are structured and priorities are set. In the US, clear-cut targets - partly in form of indicators and target values - are described in the Solar Energy Technologies Program (DoE 2004). For the EC the FP6 work programme outlines rather general strategic topics, and participants can define research projects within this framework with a relatively high degree of freedom. The consequences stemming from these different approaches would have to be evaluated on a project-by-project basis. From the portfolio perspective taken in this study it is not possible to assess to what extent research projects are actually in line with industry demands.

Strong efforts have been made of late at the EU level to better coordinate PV RTD activities, which are currently quite heterogeneous at the Member State level. The effects of the various initiatives will need to be evaluated carefully. However, it can be said that EC coordination activities could benefit from being more closely aligned with the IEA PVPS implementation agreement which provides substantial and detailed information of PV activities at Member State level. Many stakeholders express the need to continue and intensify these recent coordination activities.

Coordination with and among the European PV industry is perceived as well established. In order to continue strengthening the European industrial knowledge base, it will be important not only to involve the PV industry in the research projects, but also to continuously engage them in the priority setting for future research.

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The relationship between the EU and Japan/US is a very competitive one. With Japan, good information exchanges exist, but there are no partnerships (no common projects like with the US in the field of hydrogen). Developing collaboration with the US could be fruitful even if it is with individual states, although this may be difficult to arrange. Especially in pre-competitive fields, a better coordination as well as cooperation could lead to more efficient knowledge gains.


Funding for PV RTD has generally been increasing at a global level over the last 15 years. However, the activities of the various world regions show quite different characteristics:

* In the US funding peaked in the early 1980s and has been fairly constant at a level of euros 55-60 M per year from 1985.

* Europe sharply increased its funding in 1991 and has spent approximately euros 95 M per year over the last 15 years. In the last five years 20% of the funding has come from the EC and 60% from the most active Member States of Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy.

* Japan dramatically increased its funding fromeuros 50 M per year in the 1980s and '90s to almost euros 150 M in 2004.

Comparing the activities of the last five years, Europe and Japan are almost at equal levels of investment in PV RTD. The US is spending roughly two-thirds Europe's PV budget. In relative terms Europe and the US distribute roughly 30% of the renewable RTD budget to PV research, whereas Japan allocates about two-thirds (68%) of its overall renewable funding to PV. The industrial leadership of Japan (in terms of production of PV cells and modules) can mainly be linked to the big support actions for the installation of PV Systems launched in the mid-'90s in Japan.

Research and Technology Development

In conclusion it can be said that PV is seen as a long-term strategic field which will contribute only a little within the next decade in terms of actual power generation, but is perceived as having excellent long-term potential.

Europe, Japan and the US, and with growing intensity other countries like China, are heavily investing in PV RTD. Apart from minor differences, the strategy for all funding countries is to follow a broad approach investigating a broad spectrum of PV technologies, since no winning technology is apparent at this point.

Currently Europe's PV research is very much oriented towards general cost reductions and improved efficiency. A growing focus is being placed on building integration - which is seen as the major application potential within densely populated Europe. However, in the longer term, there is a major potential for PV applications outside Europe. This calls for an assessment of how research can support export strategies for PV, including adaptations for stand-alone (off-grid and micro-grid) applications as well as socio-economic research, e.g. business models to finance PV in developing countries.


[41] - compare e.g. PV NET final report

[42] - compare e.g.: European Energy and Transport - Trends 2030

[43] - For further details of photovoltaic research in Germany, please refer to Annex III

[44] - For further details of photovoltaic research in the Netherlands, please refer to Annex III

[45] - For further details of photovoltaic research in Switzerland, please refer to Annex III

[46] - The publicly available report gives a brief overview of the setup of the PV RTD activities of 11 states and their general objectives. However, it does not give funding figures or analyse priorities in detail. [PV ERA-NET 2005]

[47] - For further details of photovoltaic research in Japan, please refer to Annex III

[48] - For further details of photovoltaic research in the United States, please refer to Annex III

[49] - This technological approach relies on direct sunlight and is thus restricted to certain geographical regions. There are research overlaps with research on PV cells for space applications.

[50] - For further details of photovoltaic research in Australia, please refer to Annex III

[51] - For further details of EC funding of photovoltaic research, please refer to Annex III

[52] - With 2 coordination initiatives of note: one placing the emphasis on assessing and coordinating MS activities (PV ERA-NET) and the other designed to coordinate industry (PV Catapult)

[53] - Main instrument in this area is STREPS, in addition to one IP which can be considered a "lighthouse" project (see PV MIPS above)

[54] - Note that funding data is general IEA funding data (accessed via the IEA internet database): there are distinct differences with other sources. There are especially differences with the IEA PVPS data, which was used for better comparison between countries in some of the graphs

[55] - Data includes public funding only that is explicitly attributed to photovoltaics. For many countries additional funding for PVs comes from the regional authorities. In the case of Germany, institutional funding (Helmholz Gemeinschaft) is not included. Funding data for France and the US is based on 2000-2003 annual averages. Please note that data published by the IEA PVPS in certain years differs greatly (more than a factor of five) for individual countries (compare IEA2001, IEA2004)

[56] - Source: PV-NAS NET 2004

[57] - Note that funding data is general IEA funding data (accessed via the IEA internet database): there are distinct differences with other sources. There are especially variations with the IEA PVPS data, which was used for better comparison between countries in some of the graphs.

[58] - DoE 2005

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