Interview with Dr. Hamed Hanifi


1. Tell us about yourself and your main career achievements

I started my professional career by joining the PV module technology group of Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics as an intern and research assistant in 2013; working with awesome colleagues to open opportunities for clean and renewable energy. Between 2015-2021, I returned to Fraunhofer Center for Silicon Photovoltaics to start a Ph.D. in PV Module technology and reliability of systems groups with a focus on module design and optimization for desert applications.
However, my prior experience in the Fraunhofer society and long-time close collaboration with the industry motivated me to join AE SOLAR family in October 2021, where I lead the research and development activities and support our team with technical marketing and product management.


2. What were things that deepened your interest in the sustainable energy field?

My background in both master's and bachelor's studies was Electrical Power Engineering but high concerns on global warming and environmental issues motivated me to shift my professional direction toward renewable energy. I found Photovoltaics more interesting and innovative compared to other renewable energies, due to flexibility, simplicity, and durability.


3. Why are you working at AE Solar? What does this company mean to you?

My story with AE Solar began in 2018 when I evaluated the smart hot-spot-free module developed by AE SOLAR in Fraunhofer CSP. Working and communicating with AE SOLAR, I have learned that this company is always open to innovation, challenges, and new ideas. This can lead to a mutual benefit of both a scientist and a company.


4. In your opinion, what is the main advantage of solar energy?

Solar Energy is a form of renewable energy which does not endanger corps, does not provide noise pollution or endanger the wildlife, and does not influence the natural landscape compared to other sorts of power plants. It has lower maintenance costs and high durability which leads to a lower Levelized cost of energy. We can integrate solar energy not only on a utility scale but also use it in vehicles, buildings, and infrastructure. The wide distribution of PV systems in different scales increases the safety and sustainability of the energy system in case of disasters. The potential of solar energy is so diverse that even giant oil producer Royal Dutch Shell estimates that solar energy will the main future power source by the end of this century.


5. What are the technical difficulties of the Solar Industry?

The technical difficulty of a solar industry can be categorized into technological, political, and environmental aspects. Technologically, PV modules today have an average efficiency of 21%. This means about 79% of the energy received by the sun turns into heat or reflects back. However, rapid development of solar cells and modules shows a very good prospect to have even more efficient systems. Furthermore, despite other energy sources, PV systems cannot generate energy at night and the produced energy within the day is varying significantly within one day at different times of the year. There are many solutions to control the energy (e.g. different storage solutions) but the PV system alone cannot perform similar to a base power plant to provide linear energy during days and nights.

There are some political challenges as well. Places in sun-belt areas can produce almost twice more energy as compared to moderate climates. Most of these areas are deserts that cannot be used for agriculture and are a very good choice for PV applications to reduce the energy costs and Levelized cost of electricity. However, transmitting such high energy, for example, from North Africa requires political support besides technological advancement.

Finally, environmental concerns of old PV modules should be considered. PV modules are made mainly from polymers, silicon, aluminum and glass. As an example, to provide recycled aluminum frames, a significant amount of energy should be consumed to recycle the old frames. Considering that only some percentages of the final product consist of recycled aluminum, the carbon footprint is an issue to be addressed. Therefore, despite the need for more PV systems, the carbon footprint during the whole lifecycle and recyclability of the materials should be also considered. This problem can be seen not only in the solar industry but also in other renewable energies such as wind energy. Furthermore, pollution of the environmental resources by toxic components in old PV modules is an area of concern. Optimized processes to recycle the old PV modules can lead to a reduced carbon footprint, prevent the penetration of toxic materials into the environment and give another form of application for old PV modules.


6. What was the most interesting research you ever conducted during your professional career?

Some of the interesting researches of my career were optimizing the PV modules for desert climates and optimization of cell-to-module power ratios. The first one addressed solutions to enhance the energy yield and reliability of PV modules in sun-belt areas. These areas receive almost twice more solar irradiance compared to moderate climate but suffer from harsh environmental stress factors that influence the lifetime and O&M costs.
The second one proposed solutions to increase the module power beyond the sum of the power of all individual solar cells laminated into the module package, where a CTM ratio above 100% was achieved.
The most interesting product which was involved in both topics was the partial cell modules including half-cell and third-cell modules (see the press releases and publications between 2013-2015). Seeing that as we predicted, the partial-cell modules are now the new standard in the PV industry (see our publications between 2013-2016) is very exciting. We had the pleasure to investigate partial-cell modules (half- and third-cell modules) deeply in all aspects of power, yield, and reliability.


7. Which AE Solar product or service is exquisite from the head of Research and Development point of view?

Without any doubt, the smart hot-spot-free module is the most innovative product of AE SOLAR. I had the pleasure to measure and test the module during my time at Fraunhofer CSP. At the moment in our R&D department, we also developing a new solution for recycled module components, Agrovoltaics, and colored modules.


8. How do you see the nearest 10 years future of renewable energy?

Renewable energies are the future source of energy. The advancement of wind and solar energies together with storage solutions such as green hydrogen and batteries will form the future of energy in the world. The recent developments, especially in the solar industry, tell us that this advancement might be much faster than what we expect.


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