NREL prizewinner: solar at ‘critical’ stage

Lawrence Kazmerski, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Center for Photovoltaics at the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sees the U.S. solar energy industry at a “critical stage,” with future progress dependent on continued government and university research.

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Kazmerski — who spoke Thursday at the University of Delaware after receiving the Karl Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit and a $40,000 prize — says the energy department’s recently unveiled Solar America Initiative was a major turning point for solar energy in this country. Last month the DOE announced it would provide up to $168 million for 13 industry-led solar energy research projects.

“It’s kind of like Nixon going to China,” he said in an article reported by the university’s daily newspaper. “A lot of people would not associate President Bush with renewable energy and anything like this, but he did make this initiative, part of which is in solar.”

Kazmerski said the new initiative positions the United States to be “a major player” in developing affordable solar energy technology, but notes that federal funding for solar technology development is just starting to recover from years of cutbacks. Last year’s $139 million merely brought the level of federal solar research funding even with what it was in 1982.

“Photovoltaics is at a tipping point, and right now it’s at a very critical stage [in] what happens and how fast this technology disseminates,” he said.

Kazmerski joined NREL’s predecessor, the Solar Energy Research Institute, in 1977 and has been director of its photovoltaics center since 1999. He also has been an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver.

He said he plans to donate the money from the award to start a program for university students to conduct research at NREL.

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