Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

Instituto de energía solar



Prof. Antonio Luque, Founder and President of IES-UPM, gives a brief overview of our Institute's evolution from its beginning to the present day


The Institute of Solar Energy of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (IES-UPM), whose initial works commenced during the late 70’s of the last century, has been a pioneer centre entirely devoted to photovoltaic conversion of solar energy. Through its great creativity IES-UPM is nowadays a worldwide recognized centre which, despite being modest in size, has achieved leading contributions in silicon solar cells technology, III-V material cells, including multijunction, and more efficient new concepts for solar cells, including associated quantum calculations.

As a significant result of this activity, we must point out the creation, in 1981, of the company ISOFOTON, initially based on the bifacial cell invented at IES-UPM. ISOFOTON became during the first years of the 21st century in the largest manufacturer of solar cells in Europe.  It must also be  pointed out the later creation of spin-off such as ETSI-UPM in association with the oil company BP, that involved the exploitation of the EUCLIDES concentrator with silicon cells; ISFOC, a business structured research institute, devoted to the development of large scale photovoltaic plants; LPI, which commercialized IES-UPM optical designs to companies such as BOEING or JVS, in the USA or Japan respectively, among others worldwide; INSPIRA, which became a world reference for concentrator tracking systems, with a high measurement precision, later sold to the American company SOLFOCUS in a business transaction reported by the  Wall Street Journal; BSQ SOLAR, producer of whole concentration systems, using the IES technology in many cases; SAV, developer of instruments for the international market of photovoltaic concentration systems; or CENTESIL, which has made a considerable effort to develop the technology for ultra-purification of silicon by the establishment of a world unique, but not concluded pilot plant, due to the recent economic crisis.

We must also highlight the achievement in 2008 of a world record of 32.4% efficiency with GaInP/GaAs cells at a concentration of 1000 suns. Pioneering work on intermediate band solar cells, invented at IES-UPM was published in 1997 and counts on 1000 citations on ISI journals. Nowadays a new energy storage technology based on the latent heat of molten silicon (one of the highest), and its recovery by the thermophotovoltaic effect.

Let us also stand out the activity carried out by the Photovoltaic Systems Group, devoted to worldwide analysis of photovoltaic plants, no matter the size, minding social aspects of their use. This is probably the Institute with the highest objective experience in the assessment of photovoltaic plants.

Finally, we must say that IES-UPM was and undoubted necessary condition to flourish the photovoltaics the first decade of this century, when Spain constituted the largest photovoltaic global market. Only during the year 2008, a productive capacity equivalent to a nuclear plant (which would need a decade to be settled), was installed in Spain. Unfortunately, due to a partly comprehensible withdrawal of funds, much of the accumulated capital has been lost. Nevertheless Spain still counts on the best photovoltaic installers and IES-UPM is maintaining its scientific activity, willing to aid in the reconstruction of a partially lost industry which still faces the best of the futures.


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