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The Sun God

European Inventor of the Year 2009 in the category "Lifetime achievement"  

There is hardly a scientist who has done more for the advancement of solar energy than 80-year-old Adolf Goetzberger, who has pioneered solar technology research and founded Europe's largest research institute for solar energy. His achievements as a whole have helped turn a fringe energy source into a multi-billion EUR industry.

Still from nominee film (JPG)

At a glance

Inventor: Adolf Goetzberger (D)

Invention: Fluorescent planar collector concentrators for solar energy conversion

Sector: Renewable energy

Company: ISE

When Goetzberger started to round up support for solar energy in the mid-1970s, the world's total solar cell production was at just 500 Kilowatts.

Goetzberger excelled in his early career working in semiconductor research. In the 1960s, he worked with a U.S. Nobel Prize winner and at Bell Laboratories in the United States. During that stretch, Goetzberger published work that still plays a vital role in today's semiconductor technology.  But he eventually returned to Germany to realise his dream - to help solar energy to a breakthrough.

In the late 1970s, he provided visionary research into fluorescent planar collector-concentrators for solar energy conversion, which could revolutionise efficiency levels of solar power generation. In 1981, he founded the Freiburg-based Fraunhofer-Institut for Solar Energy Systems (ISE).

Over the next few years he drove groundbreaking research in the young sector. To this day, his book "Photovoltaic Solar Energy Generation" is a standard cited by scientists all over the world.

Under Goetzberger's lead, the ISE developed the first highly efficient, fully electronic inverter for stand-alone photovoltaic systems, and it took first steps toward highly efficient silicon and III-V solar cells, thin-film solar cells and solar-grade silicon.

In the field of improving efficiency, it co-operated in the development of the first transparent insulation materials, which hit the market in 1988.

In 1989, the institute participated in the 1 000 Roofs Programme, at the time the world's largest, wide-scale testing project of small, grid-connected photovoltaic systems. In the early 1990s, the ISE also pioneered an energy self-sufficient, zero-emissions house that today is replicated all over the world.

Goetzberger has cooperated in researching Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), which could satisfy all of Europe's electricity needs by 2050, a study sponsored by the German government found.

Today, the European photovoltaic industry is worth 14 billion EUR a year, and Germany is home to the world's largest solar PV market. It's difficult to envision such a development without the work - and persistence - of Adolf Goetzberger.

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