imec offers insights into the "internet" that power distribution will need

October 10, 2013 // By Julien Happich
As part of research institute imec's recent exposé of some of the technologies it has been working on, the Belgium-based research labs unveiled efforts to enable ubiquitous power generation and distributed power storage.

Focusing on energy-related topics, Business Development Director Philip Pieters detailed imec’s research strategy as a roadmap to the "internet of power". Pieters noted that with the democratisation of photovoltaic technology, the same decentralisation trend that the internet had enabled with data (generated by users locally rather than centrally controlled, and stored anywhere on portable devices) had to be replicated with the power generation industry, shifting from centrally-controlled large-scale power plants with grid balancing, to decentralised energy production by prosumers (i.e consumers with their own roof-top or façade PV installations) combined with distributed energy storage solutions.

While for decentralised energy production, imec looks into silicon and also organic photovoltaics, for distributed storage, the research centre explores electrochemical solutions for solid-state batteries.

Looking at further deployments of photovoltaic capacity in Europe, research from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA - www.Epia.org) suggests that local PV-energy production throughout Europe would require 10% of additional PV capacity compared to a “PV in the South” approach. Yet, it would still be more efficient and cost effective to locate PV installations where consumption is located, instead of adopting a “PV in the South” scenario which would somehow “centralise” PV-energy production in the sunnier South and drastically increase total energy costs through additional power transmission and distribution lines.

Pieters highlighted that reaching grid-parity in terms of PV-generated electricity price (as it is the case in Germany for example) is not enough to make photovoltaics a winner, the cost of local energy storage has to be taken into account when calculating the normallised cost of electricity. This not only means that PV modules should output more (hence the research), it also means that localised energy storage should be implemented at very low cost.

Through the Solliance organic PV program, imec has demonstrated stacked polymer triple junction cells reaching efficiencies over 9.5%, which can be manufactured through a low-temperature solution-based process. Potentially much cheaper than silicon-based approaches, such