Sarah Kurtz

Professor, UC Merced School of Engineering

Research at UC Merced

Supporting the energy transition - Hear about our CEC-funded project.

California and many others around the world are undertaking to transition to a sustainable energy system. This is an exciting time, when new technologies are becoming cost competitive, but the challenge will be to quickly transition to these new technologies. Key to transitioning quickly will be to find the lowest cost path. We are undertaking to study different pathways for California, using such codes as RESOLVE and SWITCH. The results will depend a lot on our choices, as described in the March issue of the MRS Bulletin "Revisiting the Terawatt Challenge." You may follow our progress at this website and this linked-in page.

We are currently seeking undergraduate students who are interested in studying the role of storage in California's future electricity grid. If you are interested, contact

Another element of understanding the energy transition is quantifying the performance of the new technologies. Our recent JPV paper describes how the performance of solar plants can be tracked with readily available data. See DOI: 10.1109/JPHOTOV.2020.2968418.

Solar Canals

We are partnering with Turlock Irrigation District and Solar Aquagrid to study solar canals with the goal of laying the groundwork for implementing solar canals widely in California. Read about it here.

Guidelines for siting solar systems in CalTrans' Right-of-way

Working with California's Department of Transportation and with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute at TAMU, we explored use of solar in the diamond and clover-leaf areas near intersections along highways. While California already has about 70 solar installations at CalTrans facilities, such as at parking garages and train stations, the use of the land at interchanges is more difficult because of safety and other practical issues. This project explored how to streamline identification of the locations that will be practical implementations for solar. The project was completed in December 2020. You may read the final report here.

Performance of solar panels

A few years ago, in partnership with Alta Devices, we deployed a variety of solar panels (including high- and low-efficiency silicon, as well as GaAs) on a black box. We explored the relative temperatures and relative performance to provide information for those who are selecting solar panels for use on cars, rooftops, and other surfaces. More recently, we have added perovskite modules for testing. Two papers were presented at the 46th PVSC in June 2019: Outdoor Performance of PV Technologies in Simulated Automotive Environments Aaron J Wheeler, Michael Leveille, Ignacio Anton, Moritz Limpinsel and Sarah Kurtz. and Determining the Operating Temperature of Solar Panels on Vehicles Aaron Wheeler, Michael Leveille, Ignacio Anton, Ashling Leilaeioun, and Sarah Kurtz.

Photograph of solar panel temperature test device

Effects of soiling

In partnership with NREL and Envision Digital, we are exploring effects of soiling on the output of solar cells in order to better characterize soiling losses and identify when a sensor needs cleaning. A paper was presented at the 46th PVSC in June 2019: Evaluating the Accuracy of Various Irradiance Models in Detecting Soiling of Irradiance Sensors Zoe DeFreitas, Anthony Ramirez, Brian Huang, Sarah Kurtz, Matthew Muller, and Michael Deceglie.

Photograph of soiling sensor showing the contrast between a dirty sensor at left and a clean sensor at right

The beautiful thing about renewable energy is that the more we use, the cheaper it gets, providing a pathway to prosperity for the whole world!