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Powering toward a clean energy future
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In the field of photovoltaics-the study of converting sunlight into electricity, Pierre J. Verlinden's name shines like the sun.

Born in 1957, the Belgian-Australian engineer has published about 200 scientific papers, generated more than a dozen patents and held senior R&D positions in labs and PV companies across Europe, the United States and Australia.

In 2012, to help China build a clean energy future, Verlinden brought more than 35 years of expertise to his fifth continent, becoming the chief scientist at Trina Solar-one of the world's largest solar product manufacturers, located in Changzhou, Jiangsu province.

Since his arrival, Verlinden has helped the company break 15 world records in the solar energy industry, ranging from solar cell conversion efficiency to power output for solar panels.

In his office, Verlinden has five different types of full-size solar panels leaning against the wall. Above the panels, he has hung a photo of NASA's solar airplane, which he helped design, and his William R. Cherry Award-one of the most prestigious in photovoltaics.

His most prized creations, however, are kept in his bookcase. They are an advanced type of solar cell called Interdigitated Back Contact cells, or IBCs, which set a world record in May with an energy conversion rate of 24.13 percent, the most efficient silicon solar cell ever produced in China.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which have lines of silver electrical conductors running across the panel's surface to carry electricity to the batteries.

"IBCs essentially have these conductors integrated in the back of the panel, meaning more surface area to absorb sunlight and thus higher efficiency," he said.

The lack of surface conductors also means the panels look slick and minimalistic. IBCs are still at the experimental phase, but they have already earned the moniker of the "iPhone of solar panels", for their "elegance and efficiency", he said.

IBC is just one of the leading innovations coming out of China's PV industry. For decades, China has been eyeing alternative energies, like solar and wind, to meet its economic needs, as well as to cut its coal dependence and pollution.

By 2040, China's electricity production by coal-fired power plants will drop from today's 73 percent to 43 percent, while wind will rise from 3 percent to 12 percent, and solar from 1 percent to 6 percent, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

"We hope the proportion of solar energy can be even higher," Verlinden said. "China has changed from being a follower into a PV industry leader in the past 10 years, leading the world in PV innovation, solar energy production and market size."

In July, Wang Bohua, secretary-general of China's photovoltaic industry association, told an industry gathering that the solar industry is expected to install 60 gigawatts of generating capacity this year-a 12 GW increase compared with last year.

China already had a total of 101.8 GW installed solar capacity by June, after adding 24.4 GW in the first six months of 2017, Wang said. For comparison, a typical nuclear power plant has a capacity of 1 GW, Verlinden said.

Today, the Yangtze Delta region, which consists of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, produces about 60 percent of the world's silicon solar panels, Verlinden said.

"There is no doubt that the center of gravity for the PV industry is in China. If you were a PV scientist in the 1970s, you would go to Silicon Valley, but now, you would come to China," he said.

 
Sponsored by: General Office and Foreign Affairs Office of Changzhou Municipal People’s Government
All rights reserved.Jiangsu ICP Record No. 05003616
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