Energy Research Opportunities Workshop

Sunday, March 17, 2013
8:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Baltimore Convention Center

Cost: Free

Overview and Goals

This one-day workshop for graduate students and postdocs highlighted the contributions physics-related research can make towards meeting the nation's energy needs in environmentally friendly ways. The workshop was aimed at young physicists who are concerned about the environment and who would like to find ways to use their scientific and quantitative skills to help meet the challenges that the world faces.

The workshop featured plenary talks by leaders in the field of energy research. After an overview talk, there were talks on different cutting-edge research areas. Each talk was aimed at the level of physics graduate students who are not experts in energy research. The goal of the workshop was to provide information to physics graduate students and postdocs on how they can contribute to energy and environmental solutions while doing exciting scientific research.

U.S. Department of Energy WordmarkFunding
Travel expense assistance was available and an informal reception followed the workshop for meeting participants sponsored by the Journal on Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

 Energy Workshop 2013

The Energy Workshop was a premeeting event at the March Meeting 2013 .
Gray arrow APS Annual March Meeting

Over 160 people applied for the 80 available seats at the workshop. Participants were selected based on their answers to three questions on the registration form and their one-page CV's.

Energy Workshop Talks


Speaker: George Crabtree, Argonne National Laboratory
Workshop Overview

Energy is undergoing an historic transition, from predominantly fossil to more diverse and sustainable sources including wind, solar, biofuels and nuclear and serving a variety of uses interchangeably including transportation, lighting, refrigeration, heating, entertainment, communication and industry.  Science and technology lead the energy transition through discovery of new phenomena and development of new technologies for production, storage and use.  The next fifty years of energy transition and innovation will be examined from the point of view of societal needs, international relationships, and promising science directions.  The roles of electricity, chemical fuels and photons as sustainable and fungible energy carriers will be emphasized.


Speaker: Steve LeVine, New America Foundation, and adjunct professor of energy security at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service
Chinese Smog:  A Geopolitical Event

The atmosphere of heady optimism and bullishness surrounding the prospects for renewable energy has passed--we are a long way from working, commercially feasible non-fossil fuel energy sources. Meanwhile, ignited by high prices, hydrocarbon companies have discovered and are developing a surprising new volume of oil and natural gas around the world. Many of these finds are in turn in surprising places, including Mozambique, the eastern Mediterranean, French Guiana and the continental United States. The confluence of the two—the failure at least for now of renewables, and the resurgence of fossil fuels--shakes up macroeconomic and geopolitical presumptions. We look at what the world could look like in an age of increasingly extreme weather, the empowerment of new geopolitical powers, and the weakening of existing forces.


Paul Denholm, NREL
Can We Really Run the Electric Grid on Renewable Energy?

Wind and solar energy technologies are moving from niche sources of energy to the mainstream.  Yet many questions remain about the feasibility of providing a large fraction of the nation's electricity from wind and solar energy.  This talk will discuss the resource base for renewable energy and changes to the grid needed to allow renewables to make a meaningful contribution to the nation's electric power system.  In particular it will address such questions as:

  • Is the resource base of wind and solar too diffuse? Will renewables require massive amounts of land?
  • Do renewable resources require large amounts of spinning reserves that negate their benefits?
  • Is storage and backup needed for renewable sources?  If so how much?
  • Is there a limit to how much wind and solar can be put on the grid? Will we break the grid if we go beyond 10-20%?


Dan Hancu, General Electric, R&D
Facing the Energy Storage Challenge of the Future Grid – Industry View

Understanding and forecasting the role of energy storage in the future of how we generate and consume electricity is important because the answers should help guide our research priorities.  This talk will review of operational modes being explored for both distributed and grid scale energy storage, overview conventional and emerging storage solutions, and outline metrics for comparing storage performance and economics.


R. Ramesh, UC, Berkeley
The DOE SunShot Initiative:  Science & Technology to enable Solar Electricity at Grid Parity

The Grid of the future should and will look very different from what it is today. Unlike its communications counterpart, which has evolved significantly with the almost daily incorporation of cutting edge technologies, the electricity grid has been evolving at a relatively sedate and conservative pace.  One can trace this difference to many reasons, mostly to do with technology evolution, the fundamental differences in the nature of the two businesses and differences in policies and standards. With that as the broad framework, I will focus on some specific aspects of the grid of the future. This has to do with the energy generation scenarios, particularly the role of renewable resources such as Solar and Wind technologies.  I will then drill one level deeper to focus on the role that Solar can play in the grid of the future.  The U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative's mission is to develop solar energy technologies through a collaborative national push to make solar Photovoltaic (PV) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) energy technologies cost-competitive with fossil fuel based energy by reducing the cost of solar energy systems by ~ 75 percent before 2020. Reducing the total installed cost for utility-scale solar electricity to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt hour (1$/Watt) without subsidies will result in rapid, large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States and the world. Achieving this goal will require significant reductions and technological innovations in all PV system components, namely modules, power electronics, and balance of systems (BOS), which includes all other components and costs required for a fully installed system including permitting and inspection costs. This investment will help re-establish American technological and market leadership, improve the nation's energy security, strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness and catalyze domestic economic growth in the global clean energy race. SunShot is a cooperative program across DOE, involving the Office of Science, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and ARPA-E.


David Eaglesham, Pellion Technologies
Challenges for the Photovoltaic Industry

Over the last decade the PV industry has far exceeded the most aggressive technical goals laid out in terms of performance improvement and cost/W reduction.  However, the industry's future remains uncertain and heavily-dependent on the regulatory climate.   As an industry "outsider" I will attempt to outline an appropriate role for PV within the long-term energy mix, and lay out the technical and regulatory challenges as I see them.


Jeff Nelson, Sandia National Laboratories
The Prospects of Cost-Competitive Photovoltaics:  From Nanoscale Science to Macroscale Manufacturing

The sun covers our environment with energy harvesting opportunities throughout the day.  Although great progress has been made in developing lower-cost solar photovoltaics technologies, traditional silicon and thin-film photovoltaics still remain a factor of two to three times too costly for widespread adoption. Furthermore, photovoltaics module and system formats have remained unchanged for almost 40 years, thereby limiting energy harvesting to rooftops and large open spaces.  Advances in thin-film and building-integrated photovoltaics have increased the opportunities for energy harvesting, but typically suffer from low-efficiency.  Exciting breakthroughs are being made from the nanoscale science regime to the macroscale, high-volume manufacturing domain, to develop solar energy technologies that can be cost-competitive with traditional fossil-based generation sources.   In this presentation, I will discuss these advances and remaining challenges, and highlight research in our laboratory to develop cost-competitive solar photovoltaics.


Mark Johnson, ARPA-E
Energy Storage for the Grid

Grid-level energy storage has long been promised as a technology to transform the electric power grid, enabling wide-spread renewable generation, high generation asset utilization, high power reliability and increased infrastructure security. Many of the investigations motivated by grid level energy storage have leveraged the massive investment in storage for transportation and vehicle electrification, most notably the R&D leading to the development of lithium-ion batteries. However, unlike storage for transportation, which is driven by a need for high energy storage density, grid-storage demands low cost energy storage. As a result, different technical questions need to be resolved, such as the understanding of highly reversible, high-reaction rate materials and structures as well as chemistries from ubiquitous, earth abundant resources. This talk will focus on new directions in grid-level energy storage based on the need for extremely low-cost, high reaction rate physical processes.


Tom Richard, Penn State
Smart Energy: Principles and Practices

A little over a decade ago the National Academy of Engineering named the electricity grid the most significant engineering achievement of the 20th century. In the US this grid has been remarkably successful in providing reliable and affordable power to meet over 40% of our total energy demand. But the next few decades will see a dramatic transformation of this system, with distributed power generation from renewables and natural gas, distributed storage including the batteries in plug-in vehicles, and most importantly an interactive control system that generates power, charges batteries, heats and cools buildings, and runs appliances to minimize energy use and costs.


Moderator: Julia Phillips

2013 Energy Workshop Panel Discussion

Focus of Discussion

1. Looking into your crystal ball, where are the growth areas for careers in the energy field:  research, industry, government, policy, etc?

2. How does one enter the energy field?

3. How do government policies affect career opportunities in energy?  How can/should scientists and engineer engage in dialogue with policy makers?

Elaine Ulrich (DOE & former Congressional Fellow)
George Crabtree
Dave Eagelsham
Mark Johnson
Tom Richard
Glen Merfeld

Program Committee

Julia Phillips (Chair)
Sandia National Laboratories

Reuben Collins
Colorado School of Mines

Jim McGuire
Tulane University

Ken Cole
APS Staff/Workshop Coordinator


Contact Ken Cole, (301) 209-3288, for more information about the workshop.