Solar panel symbolises photovoltaics; Source: BMWi/Holger Vonderlind

© BMWi/Holger Vonderlind

"Photovoltaics" refers to the direct conversion of solar radiation into electrical energy by means of solar cells. Various technologies and materials are used, the most widespread being the crystalline silicon solar cell.

It remains the case that German companies dispose of the greatest expertise in the manufacture of solar cells anywhere in the world. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is therefore providing funding towards research projects which serve to maintain this technological lead. Also, the continuing expansion of the use of solar power in Germany is another goal of the research funding.

Significant cost reductions in photovoltaics have already been achieved by research funding and the support for applications via the feed-in tariff for electricity fed into the grid on the basis of the Renewable Energy Sources Act. In order to further foster this development and to realise the potential for expansion in an economic and efficient manner, it is necessary to improve efficiency ratings and to attain further significant cost reductions. Research funding can make an important contribution in order

  • to further improve efficiency ratings, and particularly the gap between the output achieved in laboratory conditions and output in actual conditions,
  • to further cut costs via more efficient production procedures and the use of new process steps,
  • to reduce the amount of material deployed via increased efficiency and the use of new (combinations of) materials, and
  • to further extend the lifetime of all the components.

Funding mainly goes to applied research and pre-competitive research, where as many German firms as possible have access to the findings (cf. (in German) funding announcement for the 6th Energy Research Programme (PDF: 1.12 MB)). A need for research is perceived in the fields of silicon wafer technology, thin-film solar cells, system engineering, alternative solar cell designs, new research fields, and overarching issues.