University of Arizona's Dr. Neal Armstrong
Pima County, Ariz. (Aug. 23, 2011) – Dr. Neal Armstrong, a professor at the University of Arizona, is working to inspire and train future scientists in solar electric energy conversion.
Armstrong is the director of the UA’s Energy Frontier Research Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.
His center is part of a team of scientists, engineers, and staff located at major universities and research centers in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, and Washington working on developing new photovoltaic (PV) energy conversion technologies.
The UA center is pursuing shared research advancing the understanding of “interface science” underlying PV technologies.
Armstrong, a longtime UA chemist, says it’s not difficult to get students interested in solar technology.
They’re already engaged, he said. Their research at the UA’s Energy Frontier Research Center is already paying off and appearing in numerous scientific publications. And in several cases, the UA center is filing patent applications.
Armstrong attended a conference in Washington, D.C. in May 2011 with others working at the 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers located around the country in 35 states and in the District of Columbia.
The conference, “Science for our Nation’s Energy Future,” was organized by the U.S. Department of Energy. It brought more than 700 researchers and students together to talk about their scientific research advances in areas that are important for the nation’s critical energy challenges.
As Armstrong looks to the future, he is also looking at the present and the ability for everyone to have the amount of power they need when they need it.
As an example, Armstrong said he sees solar technology one day helping governments lead their communities in establishing renewable energy portfolios, which enable a more secure response to day-to-day needs of their citizens, as well as power needed for emergencies and natural disasters.
Developing more affordable solar technology “so cheap it would be like buying a washer or dryer” would help ensure wider energy security, he said.
Armstrong has praise for Pima County’s sustainability efforts as it incorporates solar technology into its plans.
Already the county has installed solar panels to provide power at a small cattle ranch it owns in the Santa Rita Mountains and it put 896 solar modules on the roof of the county’s health department headquarters on West Ajo Way.
That solar technology will provide 57 percent of the energy needed to operate the health department offices and reduce carbon emissions by about 6,200 tons over 20 years.
In 2010, the county powered up a 1 megawatt solar power plant at its wastewater treatment facility on Sweetwater Road and added another 1 megawatt plant on Walked Road in early 2011
The county aims to provide 15 percent of its energy through renewable sources by 2025, as outlined in its Sustainability Initiative approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2007
Also, Pima County’s Development Services Department, which issues building permits, is making it easier for others to use solar technology.
The department unveiled a tool on its website in early July that makes it quicker to get a permit from the county for a photovoltaic installation.
The solar photovoltaic calculator, a spreadsheet tool, is available at the county’s Development Services website, http://www.dsd.pima.gov/building/ under the heading: “Forms & Calculators.”
Armstrong said Pima County can provide leadership in the global market for solar technology by encouraging the development and production of solar photovoltaic technologies here.
“We need to brand ourselves as a place where, if you’re thinking about installing solar or you want to build new solar technology, this is the place to be,” he said.
Not only does the county need new high-tech jobs, but the sun shines here nearly every day of the year.
“Pima County has the best solar fluence in the world,” he said. (Fluence is the total energy per unit area carried by a pulse of electromagnetic radiation.)
Armstrong said the director of the Department of Energy, Steve Chu, wants the United States to develop large scale dollar-per-watt solar energy by the end of this decade.
That would require a 75 percent cut in the present cost of solar-powered energy.
“That’s a pretty breathtaking challenge for the scientific community,” Armstrong said.
But he said it is an important and inspiring goal for PV energy conversion technologies, to contribute to our nation’s development of economical, terawatt-level solar energy sources for the 21st Century.
For more on the UA’s Energy Frontier Research Center (Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials), go to http://solarinterface.org.
To learn more about Pima County’s commitment to solar technology, go to the Pima County Solar One Stop website: