International Standards and Conformity Assessment for all electrical, electronic and related technologies

March 2014


Nanotechnology: a key to solar energy

and energy storage

New IEC and Fraunhofer ISI study finds it will bring significant benefits to energy sector

Janice Blondeau

Nanotechnology will bring significant benefits to the energy sector, especially to energy storage and solar energy, a new study from the IEC and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI has found. Improved materials efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs are just two of the real economic benefits that nanotechnology already brings these fields and that’s only the beginning.

Into the nano future…

Thanks to continued development of nanotechnology, battery storage capacity could be extended, solar cells could be produced cheaper, and the lifetime of solar cells or batteries for electric cars could be increased.


In the study Nanotechnology in the sectors of solar energy and energy storage commissioned by the IEC , the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI found that there is a whole range of nanomaterials which will gain importance as technology continues to advance. The Technology Report Nanotechnology in the sectors of solar energy and energy storage is available here.

The rise of nanomaterials

The study found that the following nanomaterial technologies will be of particular importance: "organic and printed electronics", "nano-coatings”, "nano-composites", "nano-fluids", "nano-catalysts", "nanocarbons" and “nano-electrodes”. These seven technology profiles form the basis for two comprehensive roadmaps in the technical report.

A key to success

Commissioning this study to evaluate the potential of nanotechnologies and the future role of nanomaterials in addressing the energy challenge helps the IEC to understand the kind of work it needs to undertake to enable the broad roll out of these technologies. Against the backdrop of an anticipated 30% increase of global energy demand by 2035 and the significant expansion of renewable energy coming into the grid, the study has found that nanotechnologies including new nanomaterials, could be a key to successful renewable energy and energy storage integration.

Large-scale application in solar power generation and energy storage

Dr Björn P. Moller, project leader of this study at Fraunhofer ISI is convinced that everything points to its large-scale application in solar power generation and energy storage, unlike many other fields where nanotechnology has been unable to make a break-through. Moller said, "It can be assumed that in 2035 the share of fossil fuels in global energy production will have decreased to 75%. This implies that renewable energy will need to contribute significantly more to the overall energy generation. It is therefore crucially important that key technologies such as solar cells are further developed with the help of nanotechnology and that energy storage is improved.” “In some areas nanotechnology may even be a key to success. There is great potential for nanotechnology to help to mitigate the intermittency of renewable energy,” Moller said.

In practical terms

A practical example is through the use of nanotechnology, the light and energy generation of crystalline silicon solar cells or organic solar cells can already be enabled or significantly increased. Their manufacturing also requires less material and is more cost-efficient.


In addition, energy storage capacity will significantly improve with the use of nanomaterials for lithium-ion batteries. This is by far the most important battery technology for energy storage since the early 1990s. It is especially important in view of the constantly increasing demand for electric vehicles, whose success is also directly linked to battery performance and resulting range extension.

Resource for TCs' ongoing work

The work of several IEC TCs (Technical Committees) might be impacted by the findings of this study. The TCs that work in this area are TC 113: Nanotechnology standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems, TC 117: Solar thermal electric plants, TC 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems, TC 120: Electrical Energy Storage (EES) Systems and TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, as well as others.

MSB market watch

This study was commissioned as part of the market watch that the MSB (Market Strategy Board) has put in place to know in advance what kind of technology will be important to IEC in the future. The Technical Report of the study Nanotechnology in the sectors of solar energy and energy storage will be useful for those planning the use of solar energy and storage, whether they make products, use those products to generate and store electricity, or organize and regulate the use of the electric energy produced.

About the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes emergence and effects of innovation. We explore the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the societal impact of new technologies and services. On this basis, we provide our clients from industry, politics and science policy recommendations and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise lies in the profound scientific expertise as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.



  • This study found that in some areas nanotechnology may even be a key to success.
  • New nanomaterial technologies will be of growing importance to energy storage and solar energy.
  • The future role of nanotechnology and these new materials will be vital in addressing the energy challenge. (Photo: Siemens)


More on nanotechnology

Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter on atomic and molecular scales, is forecast to be a key technology of the 21st century, providing opportunities for the development of new products that are covered by many IEC TC/SCs. Its rapid growth requires International Standards for its move into an industrial phase.

Nanotechnology covers objects at a nanoscale, which is defined as ranging from 1-100 nm (nanometre). A nanometre is equal to one billionth of a metre (or 10-9 m). Standardization in nanotechnology starts at the features and gratings levels.


Find out more