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Solar Society marks new milestone


This year marks the 60th anniversary of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES). Prof. William A. Beckman, the society’s longest member, explains the significance of the milestone.

In the 1950s a group of forward thinkers recognized the need to create an organization to promote the development and application of solar energy. In 1954 the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) was founded, holding its first meeting one year later. The Society’s objectives were to foster and encourage the research, development, application and education in the fields related to solar and other energies.

60 years later, the dream of our ISES founders of a global solar energy industry has become a reality. As reported in the REN 21 2014 Global Status Report, renewable energies made up 22.1% of global electricity production by the end of 2013; global investment in renewable energy exceeded USD 214 billion; the total installed capacity of solar PV reached 139 GW and an estimated 6.5 million people worldwide are working directly or indirectly in the renewable energy sectors. 

However, the challenges recognized 60 years ago are more urgent today and are expounded further by the growing risk of climate change.  To mark the International Solar Energy Society’s 60th anniversary,
Joanna Costello, communications and outreach officer at ISES, contacted the society’s longest member, Prof. William A. Beckman, for an exclusive interview. 

Prof. Beckman was one of the first to join the Solar Energy Laboratory (SEL) in 1963 and worked together with Professors Farrington Daniels and John Duffie (ISES founders) to train engineering students using solar energy experiments. From 1985 to 1987, Beckman was an ISES president and later he became the second director of SEL. In April of last year, Duffie and Beckman released the 4th edition of their book “Solar Engineering of Thermal Processes.”

Following are excerpts of that interview:

Joanna Costello: Thank you for agreeing to this trans-Atlantic interview, from Freiburg to Florida to mark the ISES 60th anniversary.
Prof. William Beckman: I am glad to see how the Society is developing, under the current President. ISES has had presidents from all over the world. That makes the Society very special in that there are always a variety of viewpoints. I visited ISES HQ in Freiburg together with Adolf Goetzberger, when he was the director of the Fraunhofer ISE.

I would like to talk to you about the role of ISES in the advancement of knowledge of solar energy throughout the years.
      WB: The Solar Energy Journal was an extremely important publication for me. If you read our book [Solar Engineering of Thermal Processes], you will notice that most of the references are from the Journal. I still go back and look at old articles from the Journal. People learning about solar energy today from all over the world, not just from an installation stand-point but from a fundamental standpoint; learn from the SOLAR ENERGY Journal.
Along with the Journal, the conferences were the main drive of ISES. I attended nearly all biennial conferences, in the US, Australia, Japan, Germany to the UK. Not only were they nice places to visit, but I learned a lot. It was the source, coupled with the publication of the Journal, which drove most of what we know about solar today.

JC: When you look back at how it all began and then look to today. What is your impression of how the knowledge about solar energy systems has advanced?
     WB: Looking at solar thermal, you can find projects and experiments in Egypt, dated back to the turn of the last century which are more or less similar to today’s systems. If you read the research conducted by Professor Hoyt Hottel and his students at MIT from the late 1930s until the mid 1960’s, you will find that not much has changed since then in the field of solar thermal energy fields. Professor Hottel and his students developed the theory while carrying out experiments on four solar houses similar to what is being implemented today.
     However, the PV industry has really made great leaps forward. PV cells are becoming more efficient and also cheaper. When I started, getting a hold of PV cells was a problem. They were much too expensive. These days, they are relatively cheap. This is a fantastic development.

JC: Are there any current research projects which particularly fascinate you?
I think modeling is an interesting aspect. The TRNSYS software was developed in the Solar Energy Laboratory at Wisconsin and has since been continuously updated and improved. [TRNSYS simulates and models thermal and electrical energy systems.]
Modeling of large solar systems developed simultaneously with the modeling of houses and large buildings. It was a nice collaboration and contribution to the design of both solar energy analysis and conventional systems. Years ago, when designing an air conditioning or heating system you designed for a single heating or cooling design day. Modern building designs now provide for both comfort on extreme days and energy efficiency throughout the year. 


JC: How do you think the future looks for solar energy?
In the solar thermal field, I don’t think there’s going to be any huge changes in the science. The breakthroughs will come in the manufacturing, installation and financing. Perhaps the combination of photovoltaic with solar hot water systems will develop to be more efficient. Ultimately, I think engineering and political will-power will guide the direction of solar energy in the future.

Upcoming ISES Webinars
The International Solar Energy Society, ISES, has been organizing professional webinars since 2012. Last year the Society held nine very successful webinars. Webinar topics were: solar heat for industrial processes, hybrid concentrating photovoltaics, solar cooking around the world, worldwide developments in PV, sustainable technology integration, REN-21 GSR 2014 - focus on solar, materials for thermal energy storage, community owned renewable energy and PV-T collectors and applications.
     In 2015 there will be more frequent webinars, with exciting new topics such as solar cars and solar desalination already in the pipeline. ISES webinars are free of charge and aim to educate and inform about renewable energy technologies. There has been a resounding positive response from ISES members as well as the broader public regarding these webinars. To view the recordings of past webinars, visit the ISES website and participate in the next ISES webinar live!
    The next webinar is on the topic of Solar Desalination.
For full details about this exciting webinar, please refer to the ISES website:


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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling