Europeâ''s leading solar energy research, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, and MIT are jointly establishing a Center for Sustainable Energy Systems at the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The center will emphasize use of novel materials and techniques to bring down the costs of solar systems, and advanced construction technology to reduce the energy consumption of new and retrofitted buildings.
Itâ''s a measure of the importance attached to sustainable energy systems that the German foreign minister showed up in Cambridge to witness, with MITâ''s president and the Massachusetts energy secretary, the signing of the centerâ''s memo of understanding. Besides getting an initial $5 million in funding from MIT, the center is receiving $1 million from Britainâ''s National Gridâ''the organization created when the UK deregulated and â''unbundledâ'' its electricity system, and which now has acquired energy companies outside the UK. (It was a surprise to this blogger when he learned his natural gas in Brooklyn was being supplied by Englandâ''s electricity system operator.)
The Fraunhofer solar institute in Freiburg is one of 56 German institutes of the Fraunhofer Society, a national organization partly funded by the federal government, and partly by contract research done for public and private sector customers. The society is a close analogue of the Max Planck Society, a network of institutes dedicated to basic research, many of them very prestigious. Fraunhofer concentrates exclusively on applied research and, increasingly, has global connections.
Though itâ''s unusual for Fraunhofer to jointly sponsor research centers outside Germany, itâ''s not unprecedented in the United States. The first such center was set up a dozen years ago, and there are now five in allâ''two in Michigan, one connected with Boston University, one Maryland, and one in Delaware.
In all, Fraunhofer supports about 12,700 researchers, 160 of them in the United States.