Bilateral PV research and development deal signed

The Memorandum of Understanding concerning international collaboration in the photovoltaic and CSP fields, is the first of its kind between the two nations. Various speakers at the signing event indicated that the accord is the first step towards bilateral collaboration in vital research and development; to close gaps in solar energy research and to accelerate the development of new technologies.

R&D seen as vital

Research and development, and increased photovoltaic cell efficiency is often seen as a key to driving down solar prices and bringing forward grid parity. Such parity would be seen as a tipping point of sorts, leading to a far wider application of solar installations.

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Dan E. Arvizu and representatives from the American embassy met with the German research body Helmholtz Gemeinshaft’s relevant departmental heads and President Jürgen Mlynek, to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the German capital.

Speaking moments before the documents were signed, Arvizu said that the Germany and the U.S. share a mutual goal underpinning the agreement. "The MoU really is about establishing a relationship that can further the goals […] of our two nations and more importantly […] transform our energy economy."

Helmholtz President Mlynek agreed and said the political environment and public opinion in Germany at present created the perfect environment for research and development into solar technologies to be ramped up. "There is a clear decision now [in Germany] to get out of nuclear by 2022, there is a broad support in the public and I think there is nor more a question of whether you like it or not, we really have to make the best out of it."

He continued, "what I see in Germany not only in politics but also among the researchers, is the clear commitment to use this as a opportunity. To really go for it and to show that we can make it!"

Funding remains crucial

Mlynek also made it clear, both during the formal proceedings and in discussions prior to the signing, that Germany and the Helmholtz Gemeinschaft have firmly committed to funding collaborative research projects in solar and said, "the next practical steps is for the scientists involved to come up with some ideas."

On the U.S. side of the table, the matter of funding is less clear with President Obama facing a Congress hostile to any suggestion of profligate spending and many government departments facing budget cuts. Arvizu was confident that renewable energy funding can be maintained and personally committed to lobbying Congress and Department of Energy Secretary Chu to fund the American side of the solar research MoU.

"I will advocate […] the value of the research that we do and the value of international collaboration. Because some of them [members of Congress and government officials] don’t understand that, to be perfectly honest, and it’s important that we tell and we show them what it is that we’re doing," said Arvizu.

The NREL Director also spelled out to the value of collaborating with Germany in photovoltaics, "when we have commitment on behalf of our partners that have not only great expertise and great domain knowledge and great interest and passion about the technologies, but also long term commitments to the same goals and ideals that we have, then those are important aspects of a collaboration that will last."

However, all good agreements have to be funded and as Arvizu makes it back across the Atlantic, there’s no doubt that there is still some work to be done on the American side to make this historic MoU become meaningful research collaborations that deliver results for the solar industry and consumers. Arvizu committed to working hard to making it happen and summed it thus, "it’s a case of putting our collective money on the table to make this work."