Sêr Solar was devised in response to the Welsh Government’s Sêr Cymru programme, established in June 2013 to strengthen research capability in Wales. The £50m scheme sought to attract leading international scientific talent to prestigious new research chairs at Welsh universities. The Sêr Cymru initiative was set up with the following main objectives:
- Securing critical mass to create research capacity in Wales
- Securing greater competitive funding
- Increasing levels of excellent research in selected areas
- Increasing knowledge transfer and exploitation
Prof James Durrant from Imperial College London was appointed as Sêr Cymru Research chair in Solar Energy Research, to establish a world-class research programme in printed photovoltaics within the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC). This represented a unique partnership between Swansea University and Imperial College London. The £7m Sêr Solar initiative was launched in October 2013. The project was set with a list of technical and non-technical Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Under Prof Durrant’s direction, the Sêr Solar programme has produced high quality, efficient and impactful research. Substantive progress continues to be made on scale up, stability and performance of perovskite and organic solar cells and modules.
Alongside research and technical achievements, the Sêr Solar programme aimed to attract research-excellent scientists in the early or middle stages of their career and give them the opportunity to establish their own independent research groups. It has underpinned 3 further academic appointments and has led to a further 5 successful fellowship applications. The research team has expanded to 50, including PhD students, and more than 80% of the staff are funded by projects leveraged by Sêr Solar.
Swansea University and SPECIFIC have increasingly been recognised as an internationally competitive PV research centres. We have seen a major increase in the scientific paper output and academic collaborations with other UK based and world-wide based organisations. Sêr Solar enabled us to attract additional funding to Wales via different funding bodies and mechanisms. The project made a significant financial contribution of over £2m towards a number of strategic pieces of characterisation equipment and instrumentation essential to advances in 3rd generation PV, all situated on the Swansea University Bay Campus.
In the area of industrial engagement and collaborative projects, we have not only strengthened the collaboration with our existing strategic partners but have created new partnerships with other PV companies. We continue to work with Tata and NSG in PV related projects. Both Tata and NSG have been strategic partners with SPECIFIC from the beginning and this has been crucial to the evolution of the IKC activities and also to Sêr Solar. The team has been working with companies based both in the UK and worldwide to develop PV technologies that can be ready for market integration and are ready to adopt immediately.
Sêr Solar has also played a major role in providing a pipeline of skilled people to industry through co-funded and technologically aligned doctoral studentships. The project has provided a core science programme to underpin SPECIFIC’s Buildings as Power Stations vision. Around 40% of the SPECIFIC research programme is focused on photovoltaics. This is aligned not only with SPECIFIC’s aims but also with the wider UK agenda for academic research focus on PV technologies and materials for energy.
The Sêr Solar Research Symposium was held on Wednesday 20th March, 2019 at the Bay Campus, Swansea University. The Sêr Solar academic team gave scientific talks presenting the technical deliverables and outputs of the research programme. A poster session highlighting the research work carried out by the Swansea University team and collaborators formed part of the event. It also gave a great opportunity to discuss how the photovoltaic (PV) programme established at SPECIFIC will continue to develop in the future.
After the Symposium showcasing the work of the researchers and their collaborators, we attended an evening event at the National Waterfront Museum. Delegates were able to network with those from other academic institutions and industry and hear from Welsh Government for their thoughts on what the project has achieved. Entertainment was provided from the renowned Morriston Orpheus Choir.
The Sêr Solar programme has been a great success and has accelerated the development of excellence research capability in Wales in the area of photovoltaics. This is an achievement that myself and the team have been proud to be part of.