Solar Energy Mini-Series: The Opto-Electronic Physics That Just Broke the Efficiency Record in Solar Cells

Eli Yablonovitch, Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences Dept., University of California-Berkeley

Monday, September 26, 2011 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | NVIDIA Auditorium, Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center | Free and Open to All

The solar cell field is changing. We are finally approaching the Shockley-Queisser (SQ) limit for single junction solar cell ~33.5% efficiency under the standard solar spectrum. Previously, the record had been stuck at 25.1%, during 1990-2007. Why then the 8% discrepancy between the theoretical limit 33.5% versus the previously achieved efficiency?

It is usual to blame material quality. But in the case of GaAs double heterostructures, the material is almost ideal with an internal fluorescence yield of >99%. This deepens the puzzle as to why the full theoretical SQ efficiency was not achieved?

Counter-intuitively, efficient external fluorescence is a necessity for approaching the ultimate limits. Now new efficiency records are being broken. Alta Devices has reached 28.2%. A great Solar Cell also needs to be a great Light Emitting Diode.

The single-crystal thin film technology that achieved these high efficiencies, is created by epitaxial liftoff, and can be produced at cost well below the other less efficient thin film solar technologies.

Brief Bio:

Eli Yablonovitch is the Director of the NSF Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science (E3S), a multi-University Center based at Berkeley.

He received his Ph.d. degree in Applied Physics from Harvard University in 1972.  He worked for two years at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and then became a professor of Applied Physics at Harvard. In 1979 he joined Exxon to do research on photovoltaic solar energy. Then in 1984, he joined Bell Communications Research, where he was a Distinguished Member of Staff, and also Director of Solid-State Physics Research. In 1992 he joined the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was the Northrop-Grumman Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering. Then in 2007 he became Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley, where he holds the James & Katherine Lau Chair in Engineering.

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