Photonics increases the efficiency and safety of U.S. energy production and consumption. The renewable energy sector is an area of potentially significant job growth and a space in which photonics research can help lower U.S. energy consumption and reduce our reliance on foreign oil, thus strengthening national security and revitalizing the U.S. economy.
Fiber optics have been used in the oil and gas sectors since the 1990s for many purposes, including monitoring temperature, pressure, and even production flow along the length of a well. Fiber can also be used to monitor gas pipelines for leaks before they become problematic. Other optical technologies can be used to identify gas leaks in a variety of situations.
Solar cells and modules are now competitive as energy sources because of decades of advances in optics and photonics that overlap with solid-state physics, thermal science, materials, and chemistry. Solar power will be an important source for alternative energy to address energy independence and climate change. Accompanying this is the rapid commercialization of LED-based general lighting that helps to conserve energy consumption.