Emmett Perl Seminar: Material Science for High-Efficiency Photovoltaics: From Advanced Optical Coatings to Cell Design for High-Temperature Applications

Emmett Perl

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Material Science for High-Efficiency Photovoltaics: From Advanced Optical Coatings to Cell Design for High-Temperature Applications

July 19, 2016 | 1:00pm | Harold Frank Hall 4164


Solar cells based on III-V compound semiconductors are ideally suited to convert solar energy into electricity. The highest efficiency single-junction solar cells are made of gallium arsenide, and have attained an efficiency of 28.8%. Multiple III-V materials can be combined to construct multijunction solar cells, which have reached record efficiencies greater than 45% under concentration. III-V solar cells are also well suited to operate efficiently at elevated temperatures, due in large part to their high material quality. This dissertation explores material science to advance the state of III-V multijunction solar cells for use in concentrator photovoltaic and hybrid photovoltaic-thermal solar energy systems.

The first part of this defense will describe work on advanced optical designs to improve the efficiency of multijunction solar cells. A hybrid configuration is developed that consists of antireflective nanostructures placed on top of multilayer interference-based optical coatings. Designs that utilize this hybrid approach have near-perfect broadband and wide-angle antireflective properties, with reflection losses of just 0.2% on sapphire and 0.6% on gallium nitride for 300-1800nm light. Dichroic mirrors are developed for bonded five-junction solar cells that utilize InGaN as a top junction. These designs maximize reflection of high-energy light for an InGaN top junction while minimizing reflection of low-energy light that would be absorbed by the lower four junctions. Increasing the reflectivity of high-energy photons enables a second pass of light through the InGaN cell, leading to increased absorption and a higher photocurrent. These optical designs enhanced the efficiency of a 2.65eV InGaN solar cell to a value of 3.3% under the AM0 spectrum, the highest reported efficiency for a standalone InGaN solar cell.

The second half of the dissertation describes the development of III-V solar cells for high-temperature applications. As the operating temperature of a solar cell is increased, the ideal bandgap of the top junction increases. AlGaInP solar cells with bandgaps ranging from 1.9eV to 2.2eV are developed. A 2.03eV AlGaInP solar cell is demonstrated with a bandgap-voltage offset of 440mV, the lowest of any AlGaInP solar cell reported to date. Single-junction AlGaInP, GaInP, and GaAs solar cells designed for high-temperature operation are characterized up to a temperature of 400°C. The cell properties are compared to an analytical drift-diffusion model, and we find that a fundamental increase in the intrinsic carrier concentration, ni, dominates the temperature dependence of the dark currents, open-circuit voltage, and cell efficiency. These findings provide a valuable guide to the design of any system that requires high-temperature solar cell operation.

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