SunShot Initiative supports new solar research projects at ASU

September 14, 2016

New solar research projects at Arizona State University will receive $3.75 million in funding, the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative announced Wednesday.

ASU garnered five of 19 awards the energy department handed out; each award will go toward work that has the potential to dramatically decrease the cost of solar energy. Solar panels Solar panels on the campus of Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona. Download Full Image

“ASU continues to reach unmatched milestones in photovoltaic research and development,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at Arizona State University. “These awards, the highest number handed out by the Department of Energy to a single institution, validate our commitment to, and success in, advancing clean energy innovation for a sustainable, low-carbon economy."

The SunShot Initiative’s photovoltaics program, which is the focus of the current round of funding, supports research and development projects that lower manufacturing costs, increase efficiency and performance, and improve reliability of photovoltaic technologies in order to support widespread deployment of electricity produced directly from sunlight. The photovoltaic portfolio includes research directed toward the SunShot Initiative goals as well as critical challenges on the horizon in coming decades.

The research projects receiving funding are:

  • “Stacking” two different solar cell technologies – silicon on the bottom and polycrystalline cadmium telluride on top ($400,000 – Assistant Professor Zachary Holman and Professor Yong-Hang Zhang);
  • Flex circuitry, which connects cells without traditional, interlocking metal fingers, thereby reducing copper and silver use and lowering costs ($800,000 – Assistant Professor Zachary Holman);
  • A software tool that eliminates the ambiguity between observed solar cell changes under stress and their physical root cause, allowing more accurate interpretation of performance and material properties of cadmium telluride (CdTe) and other thin-film photovoltaic (TFPV) devices ($813,000 – Professor Dragica Vasileska);
  • Replacing obsolete aluminum-back surface field technology with silicon heterojunction. Collaboration with Sinton Instruments and other manufacturers will enable immediate transfer to industry ($837,000 – Research Professor Stuart Bowden), and
  • Using thermally conductive backsheets to cool the operating temperature of solar cells and extend their lifetime in the field ($900,000 – Associate Research Professor Govindasamy Tamizhmani).

Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies, an engineering research center sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, focuses on advancing photovoltaic science, technology and education in order to address one of society’s greatest challenges: sustainably transforming electricity generation to meet the growing demand for energy.

QESST has attracted more than 40 energy partners that span the spectrum from basic materials, semiconductor manufacturing and PV production to energy system installation firms and utilities.

ASU Law graduate discusses Indian Country energy potential

Christopher Deschene, director of U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, visits Beus Center for Law and Society on Downtown Phoenix Campus, emphasizes need for lawyers who understand his field

September 15, 2016

The possibilities at Arizona State University are endless, just ask Christopher Deschene.

Deschene, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, grew up in near Page, Arizona, and is from the Navajo Nation. This month he visited with budding Indian Legal Program students at ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in downtown Phoenix to talk about the Office of Indian Energy as students start thinking about developing their careers in law. Chris Deschene Download Full Image

Deschene graduated from ASU in 2005 with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and concurrent with his master’s studies, he earned a Juris Doctor (JD) through the Indian Legal Program with a focus on federal Indian law and energy and natural resources.

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU established the Indian Legal Program in 1988, providing a unique set of academic and clinical opportunities for students to understand the differences between the legal systems of Indian Nations and state and federal governments.

He recalled how little focus there was on energy.

“When I came here, people said you’re crazy because you want to stick to energy. Why are you doing that? We need lawyers and anything else but energy. I said, no one is focusing on energy,” Deschene said.

“When I first came to ASU they had offered energy as an elective. It wasn’t a mainstay discussion, and it wasn’t offered, Indian energy. We were talking more about natural resources and water.”

Licensed to practice law in Arizona and the Navajo Nation, he focused in business and energy development, natural resources and environmental policies. The goal: to strengthen tribal communities and sustain future generations.

Christopher Deschene
Christopher Deschene, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs.


Deschene described the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs as a progression of Indian energy and Indian energy policies. Among their goals for Indian Country is to promote energy development, efficiency and use and bring electrical power and service to Indian lands and the homes of tribal members.

There are 567 federally recognized tribes and there are staggering gaps between Indian Country and the rest of the U.S., including basic infrastructure needs like having ready access to electricity.

This is a consistent problem across Indian Country and an important problem Deschene and his office are trying to fix. He strongly believes tribes have potential, stating that American Indian lands consist of 2 percent of the land base, but tribes can provide up to 5 percent of the country’s renewable energy generation.

“There is potential in Indian Country, and it hasn’t been developed in a way to help national and administrative goals for energy security, resiliency, climate change. And Indian Country can be part of that,” Deschene said.

Deschene smiled and said people thought he was crazy because he pursued his graduate engineering degree with a focus on renewable energy while working on his JD.

Focused and determined, he knew where he was going.

“I’ve been to a number of schools, you guys are in the best program in the country. I will say that without any reservations,” he said, crediting Kate Rosier, executive director of the Indian Legal Program, for her support during his time at ASU.

He emphasized that there is a need for practitioners, lawyers, tribal and federal law practitioners who have are well-versed in energy.

Deschene had a vison and took the road less traveled, taking a dual-discipline approach, much like the interdisciplinary degrees offered at ASU today, fulfilling the mission of the New American University: solving for the problems of today and those of the future.