Tech Insights

Solar Research and Workforce Development Land $15.5M in Federal Funding

July 11, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

Two programs led by the U.S. Department of Energy unveiled $15 million in awards for projects targeting cadmium telluride solar cells and workforce development. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $15.5 million in awards for two programs aiming to expand the solar energy workforce and research and development in cadmium telluride solar cells. 


CdTe test array at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Outdoor Test Facility

First Solar's CdTe test array at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Outdoor Test Facility. Image used courtesy of NREL/Dennis Schroeder


Here’s a briefing on the projects. 


$2M for CdTe Projects

The DOE-funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) awarded $2 million to six projects as part of the three-year Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) Accelerator Consortium, which aims to reduce the cost and boost the efficiency of thin-film CdTe technologies

CdTe solar cells are a common alternative to market-dominant crystalline silicon materials, offering faster and cheaper manufacturing. They also provide high adsorption for converting sunlight into electricity via a single junction. 


A schematic of a standard CdTe solar cell featuring transparent conducting oxide and intermediate layers, along with the CdTe film

A schematic of a standard CdTe solar cell featuring transparent conducting oxide and intermediate layers, along with the CdTe film. Image used courtesy of NREL 


The six awardees, all universities, span three topic areas: high-efficiency devices; tellurium supply; and characterization, modeling, and simulation. Here’s a summary of the mix: 

  • Arizona State University will use hard X-ray microscopy and electron and soft X-ray spectroscopies to study arsenic-doped CdSeTe adsorbers and devices. The purpose is to see how the chemical states evolve between initial deposition and post-activation and what factors enhance or prevent the activation of arsenic dopants. 
  • The University of Delaware will develop new techniques for processing Cd zinc (Zn) Te solar cells to overcome performance challenges. The project will demonstrate the viability of CdZnTe in a thin-film solar cell with an open-circuit voltage of around 1 volt. 
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology will focus on recovering Te from copper processing streams with an optimized process to capture the lost Te, gold, and silver. The researchers aim to identify Te carriers and modes of occurrence and evaluate flow sheet options to separate the minerals from CP ore processing streams. A techno-economic analysis will explore ways to boost domestic Te production from CP ores by 50% or more. 
  • The University of South Florida will develop new device architectures with n-type CdTe/CdSeTe (CST) thin-film absorbers offering higher efficiency than p-type CdTe/CST solar cells. 
  • The University of Utah will study the microstructural properties and transport characteristics of advanced CdTe and passivated emitter and rear contact cells. 
  • Another project from the University of Utah will fabricate sputtered back contacts for CdSeTe/CdTe adsorbers with bilayer stacks and doped wide-gap materials. The researchers will focus on p-type materials offering a wide gap for improved bifaciality or back mirror cell optics, among other characteristics. 


$13.5M for Solar Workforce Training

The DOE selected 12 projects across several states to enter the negotiation phase in a training partnership program to expand the solar workforce in underserved and underrepresented communities. The $13.5 million program is partially funded by $10 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in 2021, and aims to boost employment and training in the country’s growing solar industry. 

A 2021 report (the most recent available) from the DOE found that the solar industry could employ 500,000 to 1.5 million people by 2035—the target year in President Joe Biden’s plan to eliminate carbon emissions from the power sector. 

Solar is one of the fastest-growing job markets among electric power generation (EPG) technologies, employing 346,000 part- and full-time workers. It topped other sectors’ job gains last year, adding 12,256 workers in a 3.7% increase from 2021, according to the DOE’s 2023 U.S. Energy and Employment Report. The solar EPG workforce was also more racially diverse than national averages in 2022, with 26% of non-white workers compared to 23% nationally. Hispanic or Latino workers exceeded the national workforce average, with 21% compared to 19%. However, black or African American workers comprised only 8%, down from 13% nationally. 


Solar is the top category of electric power generation employment by technology

Solar is the top category of electric power generation employment by technology. (Purple highlight added by EE Power for emphasis.) Image used courtesy of DOE (page 4) 


Individual awards ranged from $725,000 to $1.5 million, and recipients included nonprofits, municipal governments, apprenticeship programs, and training centers. Those receiving the highest awards ($1.4 million or more) include the following: 

  • Colorado-based Amicus O&M Cooperative received $1.5 million to expand training and certification programs for solar operations and maintenance workers, teaming up with workforce development organizations such as the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals. 
  • The Crater Lake Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Center, a nonprofit based in Oregon, got $1.5 million to create a union-based electrician pre-apprenticeship course for high school students in rural and tribal communities in southern Oregon and Utah. 
  • Maryland’s Power52 Foundation received $1.4 million to expand its solar energy training program to new areas around Baltimore. 
  • Red Cloud Renewable, a nonprofit based in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, landed $1.5 million for an apprenticeship readiness program to provide in-person training, family services, and a mobile lab to prepare Native American women for solar careers.