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16 December 2014

NREL demonstrates 45.7% efficiency for CPV solar cell

The US Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has demonstrated a conversion efficiency of 45.7% for a four-junction solar cell at 234 suns concentration, representing one of the highest photovoltaic research cell efficiencies achieved across all types of solar cells.

The new cell, which is designed for operation in a concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system where it can receive more than 1000 suns of concentrated sunlight, greatly improves earlier designs by incorporating an additional high-quality absorber layer to achieve an ultra-high efficiency.

Since multi-junction solar cells harvest sunlight by dividing the solar spectrum into portions that are absorbed by a material with a bandgap tuned to a specific wavelength range, combining materials with optimal bandgaps is critical for high efficiency. The challenge is to maintain the high quality of the materials while integrating them into a complex cell capable of efficient photoconversion.

“The distinction of this multi-junction device is the very high quality of the lattice-mismatched subcells,” says NREL scientist Ryan France, designer of the solar cell. “Lattice-mismatched materials require the introduction of defects (dislocations) into the device, which can drastically hinder device performance,” he adds. “NREL has learned to control and confine these dislocations to inactive regions of the device, allowing even highly mismatched material to be used in a multi-junction cell.”

NREL invented and developed the four-junction inverted metamorphic (4J IMM) cell with these challenges in mind. The new design consists of a gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) junction, a gallium arsenide (GaAs) junction, and two gallium indium arsenide (GaInAs) junctions that are lattice-mismatched to the substrate. The cell’s peak efficiency of 45.7 ± 2.3% was measured under the AM1.5 direct spectrum at 234 suns concentration, but the device performs nearly as well at even higher concentrations, having 45.2% efficiency at 700 suns concentration.

The device has numerous other improvements over previous designs, including a broadband four-layer anti-reflection coating, a novel metamorphic tunnel junction interconnect, and what is claimed to be unprecedented performance from the GaInP top cell. Compared to standard GaInP subcells, this subcell has both higher voltage and reduced series resistance, which is essential for high efficiency at high solar concentrations.

The cell measurements lab at NREL validated the efficiency. Notably, the measurements at high concentration were taken with a new flash simulator - a Tunable High Intensity Pulsed Solar Simulator (T-HIPSS) - that more accurately controls the spectrum of the concentrated light. This tool ensures that each junction of the device receives an amount of light representative of the solar spectrum, and greatly reduces the error of measurement. The cell is being sent to an external accredited laboratory for further testing and confirmation.

The work is supported by the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, which is a national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the DOE supports private companies, universities and national laboratories working to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

See related items:

Fraunhofer ISE, Soitec and Leti raise solar cell efficiency record from 44.7% to 46%

Tags: CPV GaAs PV

Visit: www.energy.gov/sunshot

Visit: www.nrel.gov

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