Facebook icon YouTube icon Pinterest icon RSS icon Flickr icon

Solar Research

Solar panels at Arizona Western College. Arizona leads innovations in solar technology.

Arizona enjoys more annual sunlight than any other state in the U.S. The 2011 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) names Arizona as the state with the third largest number of photovoltaic (solar) system installations, with expectations to become number two in 2012.

Though variations on direct use solar applications such as water heaters and solar ovens have been used for centuries, the idea of electricity generation from solar power is fairly recent. Electricity, as a secondary source of energy, requires constant power from a primary energy source—in this case, the sun. When the sun shines, electricity flows; but when the sun’s radiant energy is not available, electricity must be created from another source of energy. The commercial success of solar electricity depends on our ability to economically capture and store solar energy for later use.

Sun-drenched Arizona is an unsurpassed location to and find creative solutions to these challenges. Groundbreaking solar programs at Arizona’s universities make them a global hub for research in solar energy storage and a leader in commercial development of affordable systems.

Arizona State University (ASU)


ASU’s LightWorks program pulls light-inspired research under one strategic framework. Several programs focus on solar energy, and several more target biofuel development through algae and cyanobacteria.

  • Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies, Engineering Research Center (QESST, ERC) is supported jointly by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy to remove barriers to harnessing solar power in economically viable and sustainable ways.
  • The Solar Summit promotes linking and leveraging resources among individuals and organizations to expand productive investment in Arizona’s solar industry.
Photovoltaic Testing Lab

ASU has joined forces with TÜV Rheinland Group to create TÜV Rheinland PTL, LLC, the most comprehensive, sophisticated, state-of-the-art facility for testing and certification of solar energy equipment in the world. The previous Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory has long been the only lab in the United States accredited for photovoltaic design qualification and type approval. The new TÜV Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory substantially expands the lab's testing capabilities in both volume and scope by adding state-of-the-art test equipment and the capacity to test and certify photovoltaic panels and electrical components for Europe, Asia and North America. ASU's PTL team has been providing testing services to the solar marketplace since 1992. PTL was awarded several grants through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative to test new solar energy modules in 2008.

University of Arizona (UA)

Solar Zone
Head of Steward Observatory Solar Lab Roger Angel focuses his expertise on developing concentrated solar energy in the UA Solar Zone.

The Solar Zone at the UA Science and Technology Park enables utilities and developers to test many types of solar technologies. This side-by-side evaluation helps determine the most efficient and economical systems. The facility creates the opportunity to run the practical tests that are crucial for bringing solar projects out of development and into production.

The first-of-its-kind solar-centric research park is the largest multi-technology solar demonstration site in the U.S. Approximately 1.9 million square feet of high-tech office, research and development, and laboratory space are advancing the research, and the business, of solar power.


The Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy (AzRISE) at the University of Arizona is creating a portfolio of storage solutions to address the need for reliable and effective delivery of solar energy. Research addressees the goal of baseload through peak load electrical generation with solar energy and energy storage technology solutions.

Storing Solar Energy

Storage of solar energy, which allows the collected energy to be used when the sun is not present, is crucial to its widespread application. Critical characteristics of energy storage methods are fast response time and the long storage period. These are not available in a single technology, and large-scale storage must combine complementary technologies. 

Storage solutions can be classified in several categories depending on the storage mechanism:

  1. Mechanical: pumped hydroelectric and compressed air energy storage (CAES)
  2. Chemical: batteries, hydrogen generation, and fuel cells
  3. Electrical: supercapacitors
  4. Thermal energy storage for use in thermal engines (steam, Stirling, and Brayton engines) 

Each of these methods provides a range of operating characteristics AzRISE helps to research which characteristics are best suited to different applications. For instance, a typical storage solution for single-building-level storage would include a mix of supercapacitors and batteries with additional storage in above-ground compressed air energy storage (CAES) if necessary.

Compressed Air Ener​gy Storage (CAES) 

CAES holds the potential to transform and store large quantities of solar or wind energy for widespread transmission and usage. CAES involves compressing air and storing it in vessels either above-ground or below-ground. When there is no renewable energy available, the compressed air is heated slightly and released to drive turbines that generate electricity.   

Storage capacity varies from minutes to years depending on the storage vessel used. Storage vessels can be solution-mined salt caverns, capped porous rocks that form aquifers, abandoned mines, or depleted natural gas wells. Salt is a good storage medium for Arizona and the state has many large salt deposits that can store massive amounts of energy. Among these are the Luke Basin, the Picacho Basin, the Red Lake Basin near Kingman and the Holbrook Basin. The Holbrook Basin covers 3,500 square miles and is 300-600 feet deep. The Holbrook Basin can store enough energy to power the U.S.’s electrical demand for more than 60 days without recharge.  

Information from Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy