Solar director wins research award

The director of GW’s Solar Institute was awarded the only 2011 SOLAR Award for Excellence given to an individual.

The award, presented by Solar International Magazine, recognized Ken Zweibel as a leading professional who “we feel has driven the industry forward in a way that deserves notice and merit,” according to the panel.

“The award enhances the credibility of the Solar Institute, and because of that, our own presence in solar energy is improved,” Zweibel said.

Zweibel works in the field of solar photovoltaics – the study of converting light directly into electricity.

Before founding the University’s Solar Institute in 2008, Zweibel served as the program leader for the Thin Film Photovoltaics Partnership Program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He was also president of PrimeStar Solar, a successful thin film start-up that General Electric later bought.

The research professor has worked for nearly 30 years in thin film solar photovoltaics, which he said have grown into about a $30 billion per year industry. Thin films – about one sixtieth the thickness of a strand of hair – were developed as a low-cost alternative to silicon, which is generally used in solar cell modules.

As the only institute devoted entirely to solar energy in the D.C.-metro area, the two-man GW Solar Institute studies the policy, economics and sustainability of solar energy.

“This brings needed expertise to the D.C. area, including to the federal government, which has frequently reached out to the institute for its opinion on current events in solar,” Zweibel said.

The University is currently home to several solar-thermal collectors, which use sunlight to heat water. The University is discussing the possibility of incorporating solar photovoltaics on campus, Zweibel said.

Director of the Office of Sustainability Meghan Chapple-Brown congratulated Zweibel on the award.

“This recognition shows that GW continues to serve as a leader in sustainability policy and governance,” she said.

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