Bill Yerkes, variously described as the father of the modern solar industry and the Henry Ford of photovoltaics, has won the SolarWorld Einstein Award for 2015. The award recognizes individuals who have wielded an extraordinary impact in producing, applying or spreading solar photovoltaics for the benefit of the human race. Yerkes was recognized for his achievement in industrializing crystalline silicon solar manufacturing.
SolarWorld, the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar manufacturer for 40 years, conferred the recognition in memory of Yerkes in a ceremony in Munich, Germany, in conjunction with industry trade show Intersolar Europe. His wife, Sara Yerkes, and daughter, Kari Hummel, received the award on Bill Yerkes’ behalf. He died Jan. 29, 2014.
Yerkes “industrialized solar and changed the world,” John Perlin, the world’s leading solar-industry historian and author, says in a video depicting Yerkes’ industry contributions. Perlin also called Yerkes “the Henry Ford of photovoltaics.”
Before founding his own company, Yerkes co-developed solar cells and modules for the American aerospace industry. He is most credited, however, with concertedly commercializing and industrializing solar manufacturing for terrestrial applications. As a result, his efforts stand behind every solar cell produced today.
Yerkes founded Solar Technology International in 1975. Not long thereafter, he sold the company to Atlantic Richfield Co., which renamed the startup ARCO Solar, though Yerkes remained president for much of a decade. ARCO Solar and successor owners set many milestones, such as the first megawatt of solar modules produced in a year or built into a single system. After successive ownerships, SolarWorld acquired, and combined with, the industrial lineage in 2006. Today, SolarWorld benefits from 40 years of research, development, and production and market experience.
A SolarWorld Junior Einstein Award for solar-related research went to Michael Rauer, who conducted his doctoral research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (with support from the University of Konstanz, Germany). Rauer, 31, won for his dissertation, “Alloying from Screen-printed Aluminum Pastes for Silicon Solar Cell Applications.”
“Michael Rauer’s excellent scientific work made an important contribution to improving our understanding of the development and impact of aluminum back-surface fields,” said Holger Neuhaus, chairman of the SolarWorld Einstein Award jury. “This is the key to further improving the efficiency of aluminum back surface cells and PERC (passivated emitter and rear contact) solar cells, which are the cells most commonly used in the world today.”
Rauer began working in Fraunhofer’s High-Efficiency Silicon Solar Cells Group while studying physics at Albert-Ludwigs University of Freiburg. He has worked as a research scientist at Fraunhofer since December 2014.