Private: Prof. Scarpulla serving as Associate Editor
September 17, 2013
Prof. Mike Scarpulla has been selected to serve as Associate Editor for the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics. The direct conversion from sunlight to electricity is the most efficient way to harness the sun’s energy for electrical power. Fossil fuels are very useful especially for transportation but the total efficiency of power conversion is at very best approximately 1% because power from sunlight must be converted to chemical energy stored in organic molecules by photosynthesis by plants. Then the energy can be stored in that organic matter for millions of years until it is combusted to make heat and then that heat used to generate electricity. But it is important to never forget where the energy originally came from and that we are extracting fossil fuels from the ground faster than new ones are being generated.
Burning these fuels by humans has been shown to directly cause climate change so it would be better to find other means of generating electricity. Also, our electrical grid turns nearly 2/3 of the generated electricity back into heat so distributed power generation schemes in which power is generated close to where it is used (and thus not as much is lost to resistive loss in transmission) make sense. Photovoltaics or solar cells can be a distributed source and simple flat plate solar panels each about 1 m^2 in area can deliver electricity at >20% power conversion efficiency (again compared to 1% for fossil fuels).
We are currently seeing the cost of solar generation systems on homes and businesses come to the point where they can supply power at the same price per kilowatt-hour as fossil fuels even without the tax and other government subsidies given to power producers relying on fossil fuel. The IEEE JPV is the premier outlet for science and engineering related to these technologies and will be publishing the papers over the next decade on developments which will bring the efficiency higher and costs lower such that photovoltaic energy generation becomes the obvious choice both from technological and economic standpoints.