Working together, they were able to demonstrate the high potential of silicon-based multijunction solar cells: they raised the one-sun record conversion efficiency of III–V/Si solar cells to 32.8 percent for two junctions and 35.9 percent for three junctions.
These achievements are a world first in the highly competitive race to improve silicon-based solar cells efficiency, confirming the potential of this approach.
Efficiency rates of more than 35 percent have been reached in the laboratory, but with cells that only use expensive materials.
The existing photovoltaics (PV) market is rather dominated by cost-effective modules made of single-junction silicon solar cells, with efficiencies ranging between 17-22 percent.
Just like many research centers and industrial players, NREL, CSEM and EPFL are working with what are known as 'multi-junction' cells, a technology that combines silicon with a cell that absorbs blue light from the sun more efficiently.
The transition from a silicon single-junction cell to a silicon-based multi-junction solar cell has the potential to push efficiencies past 30% while still benefiting from the cost-effective manufacturing expertise in making silicon solar cells.
NREL and Swiss scientists have devoted themselves to producing such solar cells with over 30 percent efficiency.
In January 2016, this researcher’s team was able to reach 29.8 percent efficiency, setting their first joint world record.
By working together again, the scientists team from CSEM, a Swiss research and technology center, EPFL, and NREL, have beaten their own record and cemented their positions as the top experts in this technology: an efficiency of 32.8 percent was achieved for a dual-junction solar cell made by combining NREL GaAs top cell to CSEM silicon heterojunction bottom cell, and an efficiency of 35.9 percent was attained for a triple-junction solar cell by combining NREL GaInP/GaAs top cell to CSEM silicon heterojunction bottom cell.
“This achievement is significant because it shows, for the first time, that silicon-based tandem cells can provide efficiencies competing with more expensive multijunction cells consisting entirely of III-V materials,” said Adele Tamboli, a senior researcher at NREL. “It opens the door to develop entirely new multi-junction solar cell materials and architectures.”
Added Christophe Ballif, director of CSEM's PV-center and EPFL Photovoltaics laboratory: "These records show that combining crystalline silicon and other materials is the way forward if we are to improve solar power's cost/efficiency ratio."
"It affirms that silicon heterojunction solar cells, when integrated into the structure that we've developed, can generate multi-junction cell conversion efficiencies over 32 percent," said Matthieu Despeisse, manager of crystalline silicon solar cells activities at CSEM.
Pictured: GaAs/SHJ tandem cells with efficiency up to 32.8% under 1-sun standard illumination/Credit: CSEM